The word Islam
comes from the
Arabic words
meaning “obedience
and peace through
submission to the
one God.”
 Muslim means “one
who submits to the
will of Allah.”
Today there are over 1.3 billion Muslims
throughout the world, concentrated in the
Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
Islam is the world’s second largest religion
after Christianity and it is the fastest
Arabia before Islam:
Before the advent of Islam, the Arab
civilization was on the periphery of two
established and rival civilizations of the
time—the Byzantine Empire (heir to
Rome) and the Sassanid Empire (heir to
the imperial traditions of Persia).
The Arabs had little impact on their
neighboring, and more powerful,
Traditionally, the Arabs were two distinct
peoples: one, the nomadic Bedouins who
roamed the desert plains and were loosely
held together by tribal codes; and two, the
urban dwellers, whose tribal divisions were
mostly social, not geographic.
Because of its location and long-distance
trade, Arabs were familiar with the larger
world, including the monotheism of
Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism.
The Arabs had no notion of an afterlife,
resigning themselves to “fate” –an attitude
essential to a society where the mortality
rate and tribal violence was so high.
By the time of Muhammad, most of the
urban Arabs had acknowledged the
preeminent position of al-Lah (Allah), the
High God of the Arab pantheon (there
were many gods, including Allah’s three
Many Arabs increasingly identified Allah with
Judaism’s Yahweh, and regarded themselves
also as the “children of Abraham.”
al-Lah simply means “the God” in Arabic.
Unlike their Christian, Jewish, or Zoroastrian
neighbors, the Arabs were unhappily aware
that al-Lah had never sent them a prophet
(an Abraham, Moses, or Jesus) or a scripture
in their own language even though there
was a massive cube-like shrine in the heart
of Mecca.
For Arabs involved in trade, there was a
widespread sense of spiritual inferiority as
Christians and Jews taunted them for
being barbarians, a people not worthy of
receiving a revelation from God.
Judaism and Christianity had made little
headway in Arabia even though the Arabs
believed both faiths to be superior to their
Allah’s shrine in Mecca,
known since antiquity as
the Ka’aba, was the most
important religious shrine
in Arabia and a yearly
destination for thousands
of pilgrims.
By 600 CE, many Arabs were religiously
moving towards Judaism or that of
Christianity, the most rapidly growing religion
in western Asia.
As many Arabs were beginning to explore the
possibility that Allah/Yahweh was the only
God, the many others residing in the Ka’aba
and in shrines across the peninsula were
considered nothing more than “helpless and
harmless idols.”
During this period, every pagan Arab tribe
had its own idol placed inside the Ka’aba
(when Muhammad conquered Mecca in 630
CE, the city had over 360 idols, statues, and
other pieces of devotion to various gods).
The leading tribe of Mecca were the
Quraysh, whose bloodline stretched back
to the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham).
However, the religion taught and practiced
by Abraham had long since been replaced
by polytheism and/or animism.
The Quraysh controlled access to the
Ka’aba and were able to grow extremely
wealthy taxing pilgrims wishing to see it.
Social and tribal hierarchies also meant
the pre-Islamic period was marked by
oppression, tyranny, and conflict.
There was constant strife and hostility
between various tribes.
Slavery was a common practice (seen as a
sign of wealth and power).
Female infanticide was also common, as
daughters were considered an expensive
Women, whether married or not, like
slaves, were often considered personal
property that could be sold or exchanged.
Polygamy was a common practice.
Changes were coming, as a result of
Here is the tradition of the birth of Islam:
In the year 570 CE, Muhammad Ibn Abdullah
(which means “Praiseworthy”) was born in the
city of Mecca.
Muhammad was born into a family of noble
lineage that belonged to the Quraysh.
Orphaned at a young age (6), he would be
raised mostly by his uncle (his father’s
younger brother).
As a young man, he became a merchant.
Being a merchant enabled him to travel
throughout the Arabian Peninsula, where
he would come into contact with several
cultures and religions (including Judaism
and Christianity).
He married Khadijah, (known as the
“Pure”), an older woman (15 years older),
and had six children (2 boys/4 girls). Both
sons died in infancy (which will be
important to the story later).
He lived the life of a wealthy
But he was a highly reflective
man who was constantly
troubled with religious and
moral issues, as he
disapproved of the
lawlessness of his
countrymen and was troubled
because many were
polytheistic and superstitious.
Muhammad was a hanif (one who followed
the monotheistic teachings of Ibrahim).
As a hanif, he would spend weeks at a time
in the caves in the mountains outside
Mecca, fasting, praying, deep in
contemplation, grieving over what he saw
as social injustices; infant daughters buried
alive; women traded and bartered like
chattel; and slaves were treated no better
than livestock.
Muhammad would retreat into the
mountains outside Mecca to pray and
contemplate the meaning and purpose of
existence (like Buddha and Jesus).
Then in the year 610 CE (around his 40th
birthday), while praying in a cave on Mount
Hira, Muhammad believed that he began to
receive revelations from the archangel Jibril
These revelations would continue over the
next 23 years.
Convinced after
some initial self
doubt that he was
chosen to be a
prophet, he
committed his life
to fulfilling the
divine commands
he thought he
received from
Muhammad was told by Jibril (Gabriel) he
was to be the Rasulillah (the Messenger of
God), a prophet charged with delivering a
message that would set straight
misinterpretations of earlier revelations
given through the Jewish or Christian
prophets (i.e. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah,
Ezekiel, Jesus).
Muhammad leads Abraham, Moses, Jesus,
Isaiah, and Ezekiel in prayer (from a medieval
Persian text).
The revelations from Gabriel to
Muhammad, recorded in the Qur’an (or
Koran) – means Recitation– became the
sacred scriptures of Islam, which to this
day Muslims everywhere regard as the very
words of God and the core of their faith.
Intended to be recited rather than simply
read for information, the Qur’an, Muslims
claim, when heard in its original Arabic,
conveys nothing less than the very
presence of the divine.
Religiously, it was radically monotheistic,
presenting Allah as the only God, the allpowerful Creator, good, just, and merciful;
rejecting as utterly false and useless the
many gods housed in the Ka’aba; and
scorning the Christian notion of the
Muhammad was not trying to create a
new faith…he wanted to return to the old
and pure religion of Abraham from which
the Arabs, Jews, and Christians had
According to the Qur’an, submission to
Allah (Muslim means “one who submits”)
wasn’t just an individual or spiritual act, it
involved the creation of a whole new
Over and over the Qur’an denounced the
prevailing social practices of Mecca; the
hoarding of wealth, the exploitation of the
poor, corrupt business deals, usury, abuse
of women, and the neglect of widows and
Like the Jewish prophets of the Old
Testament, the Qur’an demanded social
It sought to return to the older values of Arab
tribal life—solidarity, equality, concern for the
poor—which had been undermined in Mecca
by its growing wealth and commercialism.
The Qur’an also challenged the entire tribal
and clan structure of Arab society, which was
prone to feuding and violence.
The just and moral society of Islam was the
umma, the community of all believers, which
replaced tribal, ethnic, or racial identities.
Such a society would be a “witness over
the nations,” for according to the Qur’an,
“You are the best community evolved for
mankind, enjoining what is right and
forbidding what is wrong.”
In this community, women had an
honored and spiritually equal place.
The umma was to be a new and just
community, bound by a common belief,
rather than by territory, language, or
Muhammad began
preaching to his
fellow Meccans that
there was no god
but Allah, that they
must submit to God’s
will, and he pointed
out their unjust and
evil ways.
He warned them of the impending judgment
of Allah (God).
His early preaching called for social justice
and equality and condemned the oppression
of the poor by the wealthy and powerful
(ideals also common in Judaism and
At first, some of the people of Mecca were
amused by Muhammad while others
scorned him. Eventually many became
interested in his words.
As his popularity and power grew, the
political leaders of Mecca began a hostile
campaign against him (because his
popularity threatened their power).
Muhammad’s message of absolute
monotheism and social equality was against
the Meccan establishment (of his own
Quraysh clansmen).
Fearing that their pagan beliefs and tribal
social hierarchies were threatened by Islam,
tribal elders began to persecute and torture
Muslims and plotted Muhammad’s
assassination (his arch enemy was one of his
own uncles).
In 615, Muhammad
sanctioned the
migration of 80
Muslims to
Abyssinia (Ethiopia)
where they were
welcomed and
protected by the
Christian king and
his subjects.
The year 619 is known as the ‘Year of Grief’
for Muhammad. His uncle and protector,
Abu Talib died, and a few months later, his
beloved wife and spiritual companion,
Khadijah, passed away.
Adding to his humiliation, he visited a
nearby village to invite its people to Islam
and its people set their children upon him,
chasing him from the city and pelting him
with stones.
In 621, Muhammad came upon some
pilgrims from the city of Medina. They had
heard of Muhammad and were aware of
the Judeo-Christian claims of a “promised
Muhammad explained Islam and the
pilgrims converted.
A year later, they invited Muhammad and
his followers to settle in Medina (Al
Madinah-which means “the city” in Arabic).
Still fearing for his life, in 622 he and
several followers secretly fled from Mecca
(he barely escaped assassination) to the
safer haven of Medina about 200 miles
north, where Muhammad established an
Islamic community in the city.
It is in Medina that Islam became the
foundation for an entire way of life.
This moment, known
as the Hijira
(“migration”), was so
important, it marks the
starting date of the
Muslim era, Year 1 on
Islam’s calendar
(meaning we’re now in
the 15th century of the
Islamic calendar).
In the early seventh century Arab society
was in social and cultural disarray, but
Muhammad forcefully taught Allah’s
lessons and began to transform his
He assumed full leadership of the city of
Medina—reorganizing and reforming the
city politically, religiously, and militarily.
Muhammad became the Prophet-ruler of a
virtual Islamic state within the heartlands
of pagan Arabia.
He was so successful that Muslims look
back to this time as the creation of the
standard or model for Muslim society to
One of the key ideas was that of equality
among Muslims (in the sight of Allah,
there were no differences among
That meant in theory, no racism. In
reality though, this only applied to
Muslims. Others were considered inferior.
The ancient tradition of slavery continued,
but one Muslim could not enslave another.
In the Muslim world it was considered a
good deed to free a slave, just not the
slave (s) of a good friend or relative.
Muhammad was
particularly successful in
military affairs (followers
believed he was led and
protected by “the will of
He planned and led
many successful military
campaigns, and in 630
he led his followers to
victory over Mecca.
Muhammad was a compassionate
conqueror, granting mercy to all who
submitted to Islam.
He became known as the Prophet of
Muhammad provided such a powerful
stimulus that Arab society was mobilized
almost overnight.
Even though he died in 632 CE, his faith and
fame spread like wildfire.
Arab armies carrying the banner of Islam
invaded, conquered, and converted wherever
they went.
By 715 CE, Islam reached far into North
Africa, into Spain, through the Transcaucasia,
and into most of Southwest Asia.
By 1000 CE, Islam had penetrated Southern
and Eastern Europe, Central Asia (even
reaching China), West Africa, East Africa, and
Southeast Asia.
By 1000 CE, Islam had become the world’s
first truly global religion, stretching half
way across the world.
Muslims hold that the only genuine
explanation for the rapid Islamic conquest
of the Middle East outward was Divine
Providence, Allah’s help to those who
fought for the faith.
While the spiritual capital remained in Mecca,
as the Arab-Islamic Empire expanded, the
political/administrative capital went from its
original location in Medina to Damascus (Syria)
and then to Baghdad (Iraq).
While the empire expanded, it matured and
In architecture, mathematics, medicine,
and science the Arabs far outpaced their
European contemporaries.
The Arabs established great universities
and libraries in many cities, including
Baghdad, Cairo, Timbuktu, and Toledo.
Cathedral of Seville. It
used to be a mosque.
The Alhambra Palace
in Grenada.
The Umayyad Great
Mosque of Damascus.
Interior of the Great
Mosque of Cordoba.
How do Muslims regard
Muhammad? Muslims believe
Muhammad was singled out for
his natural virtue and integrity to
fulfill the role as the final
intermediary of divine
As a human (he was never
considered divine), Muhammad
naturally had his faults, but
Muslims regard him as the finest
our species has produced, the
ideal family man and leader of
Throughout his married life with Khadijah,
Muhammad stayed away from adultery,
drinking alcohol, gambling, and the
rivalries which plagued pre-Islamic Mecca.
He was known for his compassion and
care, especially towards orphans and the
Muslims consider him to have restored
the unaltered original monotheistic faith
of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and
other prophets.
So what is Islam?
The precepts of Islam in many ways are a
revision and embellishment of Judaic and
Christian beliefs and traditions.
All three faiths trace their origins to
Abraham (in Hebrew Abraham means
‘Father of Nations’ ).
faiths followed
Abraham’s son
Isaac while
Islam traced
itself to his first
son Ishmael.
All three faiths believe in the same God, who
occasionally communicated to humankind
through prophets.
Islam believes that God spoke to humankind
beginning with Adam and continued through
Moses and Jesus, but considered
Muhammad as “the seal,” the final and
greatest of the prophets.
Muslims believe Muhammad’s mission was to
bring God’s final revelation to humankind.
What are some of the fundamental beliefs?
Islam brought to the Arab world not only a
unifying religious faith it had lacked but also
a new set of values, a new way of life, a
new individual and collective dignity.
Islam dictated the observance of what
became known as the Five Pillars…they
are how the beliefs of Islam are to be put
into action every day.
The first pillar is the confession of faith—
the repeated expression of the basic
creed (belief in one God and the prophet
hood of Muhammad)—known as the
The second pillar is the daily prayer –five
times a day facing Mecca –known as the
Prayer times are dawn, just after noon,
mid-afternoon, just after sunset, and after
The third pillar is daytime fasting called
This occurs during the ninth month of the
Muslim calendar (lunar not solar) which is
called Ramadan.
From sun-up to sun-down, adult Muslims are
not supposed to eat or drink anything
(exceptions are soldiers, travelers, and the
After sun-down Muslims usually eat a
light meal filled with sweets and the evening is
spent in spiritual reflection and prayer.
 In 2015, Ramadan ran from June 17 to July
17. The end of Ramadan is know as Eid alFitr, a day of joy and celebration.
This daily sacrifice shows equality with the
poor and it reminds Muslims that the good
things in life are to be enjoyed but not to be
overindulged in.
But Ramadan is much more than merely
not eating or drinking during the day.
Fasting is supposed to teach selfdiscipline, patience and spirituality.
People are supposed to restrain
themselves from any type of sinful
activity, including backbiting (or being
catty), gossip, looking at unlawful things
and using obscene words.
The fourth pillar is
the giving of alms
(charity) to the
poor—known as
If you can afford it,
you are to give
2.5% of your
savings to the poor
every year.
The final pillar is at least one pilgrimage in
each Muslim’s lifetime to Mecca –known as
the Hajj to see the Ka’aba. This is one of
the prerequisites for entering Heaven.
According to
tradition, Abraham
and Ishmael built a
simple stone cubelike structure in what
came to be the center
of the city of Mecca
(a large mosque has
been built around the
In Muhammad’s
time, the Ka’aba
was about 15 feet
tall with a black
stone about the size
of a bowling ball in
one corner (believed
to be a meteor of
divine origin from
the time of Adam
and Eve).
This miniature (c. 1315)
shows Muhammad
rededicating the stone at
the Ka’aba.
The meteor is framed in
silver, and pilgrims
attempt to kiss it like
Muhammad supposedly
Since this isn’t
always possible
because of the
crowds, you are to
point to the stone
and bow every time
you make a circuit
around the Ka’aba.
The Ka’aba was
thought to be at
the center of the
world with the
Gate of Heaven
directly above it.
The Ka’aba marked the location where the
divine world intersected with the mortal.
The embedded Black Stone was a symbol
of this intersection (as a meteorite that
had fallen from the sky, it linked heaven
and earth).
Today the Ka’aba is about 43 feet high
and about 40 feet wide.
Its holiness as a divine presence comes
mainly from its association with the lives
of Abraham and Muhammad.
It is covered by a black silk curtain made
in Egypt, decorated with gold-embroidered
calligraphy. This cloth is known as the
kiswah; and it is replaced yearly.
When performing the Salat (prayer 5 times
a day), you are to face towards Mecca
(because that’s where the Ka’aba is).
The Hajj occurs during the last month of
the Islamic year (known as the Month of
the Hajj).
The pilgrimage rites occur during a 5-day
period, between the 8th - 13th days of
this lunar month.
In 2015, the Hajj is expected to occur
between September 21-26th (depends on
the waxing crescent moon).
Since Islam teaches that all people are
equal before God, Muslims are required to
shed any symbols of their social status
when making the Hajj.
The same ihram (Hajj clothing) is worn by
all: men wear two white, unsewn pieces
of cloth (which represents the shroud);
Women wear any plain, simple clothing
that covers them fully.
No jewelry or perfume is to be worn.
Over three million pilgrims attend the Hajj
every year. Most stay in the “white tents
at Mina” where they are arranged by
Muslims believe that performing the Hajj
purifies them from sin, and when they
return home, there are usually great
celebrations of their “sinless” status.
The majority of Muslims do not manage to
perform the Hajj, so during the Hajj
period, they fast and pray at home.
To the five pillars, many Muslims would
add a sixth, jihad, which means a
person’s inner struggle to live a good life.
Muhammad believed jihad to be the
personal effort each devout Muslim must
make against greed and selfishness, a
spiritual striving toward living a “Godconscious” life.
In its lesser form, the “jihad of the sword”
was to mean the armed struggle against
the forces of evil and defending the umma
(the Islamic community) from threats of
infidel aggressors.
Today, many see jihad to mean either
“holy war” or “spiritual struggle against
the adversaries of Islam.”
Like the
heritage, Islam
believes in angels
(several are the
same), the devil,
and a Judgment
Day for all
Those who have been faithful and have
done Allah’s will, will be rewarded in
Paradise (Heaven).
For Muslims, death is not seen as the end
but merely as a transition from one state of
being into another as the soul journeys
back to the creator (similar to other faiths).
But those who have rejected faith and
commit sins and grave injustices are
condemned to the fires of Hell.
Muslims, like many Christians and Jews,
also believe in predestination…that your life
is predetermined and that God controls
everything that happens.
Muslims, like Christians and Jews, also have
a code of behavior that stresses correct
social behavior like respecting your parents,
your neighbors, and your community; and
being honest, trustworthy, and patient.
Islam forbids alcohol, smoking, eating pork,
and gambling.
It tolerated polygamy…you could have up to 4
wives…(Muhammad had 9), although it spoke
of the virtues of monogamy.
Mosques (Muslim houses of worship and
community) were not only for prayer, but they
became social gathering centers which knit the
Arab religious community (umma) closer
Mecca became the spiritual center for a
divided, widely dispersed people for whom
a collective focus was something new.
Yet for all its vigor and success, Islam still
fragmented into two theological sects.
The earliest and most consequential
division came about after the death of
Muhammad (from a fever at age 62).
Who should be his legitimate successor?
Who would become the spiritual and
political leader of the umma, the protector
and defender of the faith?
The Qur’an (the holy scriptures of Islam)
dictated a democratic system for choosing
the successor (known as the caliph).
Muslims were free to debate, have
differences about successors, and elect a
new leader.
No one could have predicted the
consequences of this would lead to the
most serious divide in the Islamic
A few believed that the caliph should be a
blood relative of the prophet (Muhammad)
who led Islam.
Others felt that any truly devout (male)
follower of Muhammad was qualified to
lead the faithful.
The first four caliphs , known among
Muslims as The Rightly Guided Caliphs (623662 CE) were close “companions of the
Prophet,” selected by the Muslim elders in
Almost immediately tribal divisions surfaced
causing the first caliph, Abu Bakr, to
suppress them forcibly.
The first chosen
successor (caliph) was a
Muhammad’s closest
friend and the father of
one of Muhammad’s
four wives (and thus not
a blood relative).
Bakr died after serving
only 27 months as
The next two caliphs,
Umar, who ruled 10
years until 644 CE,
and Uthman, who
ruled 12 years until
656 CE, were close
friends and associates
of Muhammad, but
also not relatives.
Initially under Abu Bakr, but also Umar and
Uthman, Muslim military commanders raided
into areas north of Arabia as far as present-day
Iraq and Syria and westward into Egypt.
These raids showed the weakness and
vulnerability of the post-Classical Byzantine and
Sassanid (Persian) Empires.
With victories came the problem of how to
divide the spoils of conquest among the tribes.
Umar was assassinated by a rival clan
coming home from a Hajj.
Uthman, the first caliph of the Umayyad
clan, was 84 and unpopular when he was
assassinated by rebels from a rival clan,
run through with a sword while in prayer
at home.
Less than 25 years after Muhammad’s
death, a civil war between the Umayyad
clans and those that supported
Muhammad’s cousin Ali erupted.
The first three caliphs didn’t satisfy a faction
of Muslims who wanted to see Ali,
Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law
(married to his daughter Fatima), named
Tradition states that Ali was the second
person who converted to Islam.
Ali had been previously passed over
because the tribes didn’t think he was old or
experienced enough to lead the faithful.
When Ali’s turn came on the
death of Uthman (and he
became the fourth caliph 24
years after Muhammad’s
death) his followers, known as
the Shiat Ali (the followers of
Ali) or the Shi’ites,
proclaimed that Muhammad
finally had a legitimate
Shi’ites believed that Ali should have been
the first caliph and that the caliphate
should pass down only to direct
descendants of Mohammed via Ali and
Entirely rejecting the authority of the first
three caliphs, the Shiah Muslims regarded
Ali as the first in a line of infallible
religious leaders called imams.
But Ali moved the capital of the Islamic
community from Medina to Kufa (now in
Iraq) where he had more support.
This made him unpopular and many
Muslims refused to accept his authority.
Even though he was a skilled soldier, Ali
lost the backing of powerful clans and a
new Umayyad chieftain, named Mu’awiya
was proclaimed caliph in Jerusalem.
This directly challenged Ali’s position and
in 657, both men led armies into a three
day battle to decide who was the
legitimate caliph.
The battle was inconclusive and both
agreed to a six-month truce and
However when the time came, neither
man backed down and the stand-off
Some Muslims hatched
a plot to end what they
saw as a damaging
conflict: on the 19th day
of Ramadan in 661,
both men were stabbed
with poisoned swords
while at prayers.
Mu’awiyah recovered,
but Ali died two days
The “Holy Family”
of Shia:
(center), Fatima
(veiled), Ali, and
grandsons Hassan
(green) and
Husayn (red).
His eldest son, Hassan, agreed to Umayyad
demands not to become the caliph in return
for his life and a pension. He died less than
a year later, allegedly poisoned.
Those who backed Mu’awiya and the
Umayyads against Ali and the Shi’ites were
known as the Sunni (“the Way” or “the Path
of Muhammad”).
In 680, Ali’s younger son, Hussein (or
Husayn), led an army of followers against
the man who proclaimed himself the caliph
(Mu’awiya’s son Yazid).
Hopelessly outnumbered, Hussein’s army
was slaughtered at the Battle of Karbala (in
today’s southern Iraq).
The Battle of Karbala (680 CE).
The division between those who were
Shi’ites and those who were Sunnis was
set, and has been in place for 1300 years.
Hussein’s death is commemorated
annually (known as the Day of Ashura)
with intense processions during which the
marchers beat themselves bloody with
chains and cut themselves with sharp
metal instruments.
The Day of Ashura commeration:
The Sunni’s did not see a blood
relationship as necessary for
succession…rightful religious, political, and
military leaders could be selected by the
Islamic community.
Shi’ites felt the caliphs should come
through the line of Ali and Hussein, blood
relatives of Muhammad, both of whom
died at the hands of their political or
religious enemies.
From the beginning of this disagreement,
the vast majority of Muslims took the Sunni
The great expansion of Islam was propelled
by Sunnis; the Shi’ites survived as a small
minority scattered throughout the empire
(today mainly in Iran and Iraq).
Today, about 85-90% of Muslims are
For most of Islamic history, Shi’ites saw
themselves as the oppressed
minority…that the faith had taken a wrong
turn and that they were “the defenders of
the weak, the critics and opponents of
privilege and power.”
To Shi’ites, Sunnis were the advocates of
established order.
These deep divisions exist even today.
The first four caliphs after Muhammad’s
death were elected, but after the political
turmoil surrounding Ali’s death, the
caliphates (Islamic empires) became
hereditary, even though new caliphs were
still formally elected.
There were two Islamic dynasties during
the post-Classical period: the Umayyad
Dynasty (661-750) and the Abbasid
Dynasty (750-1258).
Since Ali’s last descendent died in the 9th
century (and thus the blood line of
Muhammad), Shi’ites created a council of
12 scholars called the ulema to elect a
Supreme Imam.
Shi’ites believe their Supreme Imam is a
fully spiritual guide, and the sole source of
true knowledge, inheriting some of
Muhammad's inspiration.
The Shia Imam has come to be imbued
with Pope-like infallibility and the Shia
religious hierarchy is not dissimilar in
structure and religious power to that of
the Catholic Church.
Sunnis and Shi’ites agree on the
fundamentals of Islam, like the Five
Pillars, and they recognize each other as
Muslims, but they have some deep
divisions (like in Christianity).
Mu’awiya moved the political capital from
Medina to Damascus (Syria) where it was
more centrally located in the growing empire.
From Damascus, the Umayyads built a
bureaucracy to govern their vast lands (which
would become the largest empire since the
Mu’awiya made sure that his son was made
his successor before he died.
The caliph became more powerful and
imperial, living in lavish desert palaces and
conducting court against an exotic
background of wild birds and beasts and
dancing girls. This was quite different from
the simple lifestyles of Muhammad and his
early successors.
Under the Umayyads, a distinctive Islamic
culture began to take shape, influenced
largely by their Arab background.
Arabic became the official language of the
administration, replacing Greek and
Persian, which had been used in the
conquered territories.
An extensive communications system was
established, with horseback postal routes
and staging points for official use.
For seven years, the Islamic armies of the
Umayyads battled for the Iberian Peninsula.
Landing at Gibraltar in 711, a Muslim leader
had his boats burned, then told his men
“The sea is behind you and the enemy is in
front of you. By God, there is no escape for
you save in valor and determination.”
Under the Umayyads,
Islamic armies
conquered as far east
as Afghanistan and as
far west as northern
Africa, Christian Spain,
and well into central
France (before being
turned back at the
Battle of Tours in 732).
From Damascus, the Umayyads built a
bureaucracy to govern their vast lands (the
largest empire since the Romans).
The core of the caliph’s government and
army officers were Arabs who lived in the
urban centers and shared in the rewards of
Rural areas held mostly non-Arab subject
peoples, who paid taxes to support the
government (unlike Arab Muslims who were
only taxed for Zakat—charity)
The Umayyads tried to keep interactions
between the Arab Muslims and subject
peoples to a minimum to prevent the loss
of tax revenue.
Non-Arab Muslim converts received few
social or financial benefits, so conversions
were not very common, yet.
They still had to pay property taxes and
special head taxes, and they were not
considered to be a part of the umma.
The “People of the Book,” as Jews and
Christians were known, were considerably
better treated, even though they had to
pay the same taxes as other subject
However, Jews and Christians were
allowed to worship as they pleased and
their communities and legal systems
remained intact.
The name Jews and Christians were given,
the dhimmis (or “People of the Book”)
explains why: Muslims respected Jews
and Christians because they were also
governed by holy scriptures and they had
shared beliefs and common roots.
The Umayyad exclusion of non-Arab
Muslims (mawali) proved to be
problematic as Arab administrative centers
became increasingly far-flung.
In the 740’s, rebel mawali forces
demanded social and religious equality
with Arab Muslims and eventually brought
down the Umayyad Dynasty.
Recapping the early expansion of Islam:
Shortly after the death of Muhammad,
Islam began a rapid drive for expansion.
Unlike Buddhism or Christianity, which
expanded through missionary or
commercial activity, Islam initially extended
its influence by military conquest.
Islam spread quickly throughout portions of
Africa and Eurasia.
Within a year of Muhammad’s death, most of
the Arabian Peninsula was united under
Persia was conquered in 651 when the
Sassanid Dynasty was overthrown.
By the end of the seventh century, Islam had
reached Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine, and
Also by the end of the seventh century Islam
extended into Central Asia east of the Caspian
Sea, where it competed with Buddhism.
During the eighth century, Muslim armies
reached present-day Tunisia, Algeria, and
Morocco; Hindu-dominated northwest India;
and the Iberian peninsula (Spain and
The earliest Muslim conquerors were less
concerned with spreading religion and more
concerned with the extension of Arab power.
The Umayyad Caliphate
Under the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750):
The office of caliph united both secular
and religious authority in the person of
one leader.
After the assassination of Ali in 661, the
Umayyad family came to power.
Establishing their political capital in
Damascus, the Umayyad were noted for
the following:
The Umayyad Caliphate
An empire that emphasized Arab ethnicity
over adherence to Islam.
Thousands of non-Arab converts (mawali)
seethed at discriminatory taxes and
Respect for Jews and Christians as “People of
the Book.” Even though required to pay taxes
on property and for charity, Jews and
Christians were allowed freedom of worship
and self-rule within their communities.
The Umayyad Caliphate
They created a unified state, a vigorous
commerce, and a resolute military based
upon Arab tribes.
But by 740 Umayyad policies had severely
polarized their subjects and generated
widespread hostility to their authority.
Arab armies on the frontiers resented their
low pay, constant campaigning, and the
privileges of more favored tribes.
The Umayyad Caliphate
The Umayyad ruling family lived lives of
luxury, which prompted riots and instability
among the general population.
These riots led to the overthrow of the
Umayyad Dynasty by the Abbasid Dynasty
in 750.
The Abbasid Dynasty, which took its name
from an uncle of Muhammad (al-Abbas),
were originally supported by the Shi’ites but
became increasingly receptive to the Sunni
The Abbasid Caliphate
The mawali also supported the Abbasids
(they never liked the Umayyads) because
they hoped the Abbasids would accept
them as members of the Islamic
community of believers (the umma).
In 750, Umayyad forces met Abbasid
forces at the Battle of the River Zab
(northern Iraq) and the Abbasids were
The Abbasid Caliphate
To eliminate the possibility of future
Umayyad challenges, most of the
Umayyad were invited to a “reconciliation”
banquet where they were massacred.
Those Umayyad not attending the
banquet were hunted down and killed.
One member of the family escaped to
Spain, where he established the Caliphate
of Cordoba.
The Abbasid Caliphate
The establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate
was a true revolution, not just a change of
They ended the ethnic and economic
discrimination against non-Arab Muslims
(mawali) and they established the
fundamental principle that all Muslims were
equal before the state as well as before God.
Freed of Umayyad elitism, Islam experienced
a dramatic surge in conversions.
The Abbasid Caliphate
To dramatize the
newness and purity of
their government, the
Abbasids abandoned the
Umayyad capital of
Damascus, and built
themselves a new capital
in Baghdad.
The tower of the Great
Mosque of Samarra (built
The Abbasid Caliphate
In Baghdad the
Abbasid court
welcomed Muslims
of all ethnic
backgrounds, laying
the foundations of
an intellectual,
philosophical, and
The Abbasid Caliphate
Under the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258):
The mawali (converts) experienced new
opportunities for advancement in education,
government, and the military.
Trade became increasingly important and
routes stretched from the western
Mediterranean to China.
The learning of the ancient Greeks, Romans,
and Persians was preserved. Greek logic,
especially that of Aristotle, permeated
Muslim intellectualism.
The Abbasid Caliphate
In mathematics, the
fields of algebra,
geometry, and
trigonometry were
developed or further
The astrolabe, which
measured the
position of the stars,
was improved.
The Abbasid Caliphate
The study of astronomy produced
accurate maps of the stars.
Optic surgery became a specialty, and
human anatomy was studied in detail.
Muslim cartographers produced the
world’s most detailed maps.
Some of the world’s first universities and
largest libraries were built in Cairo,
Baghdad, Timbuktu, and Cordoba.
The Abbasid Caliphate
In the arts, calligraphy
and designs called
arabesques adorned
writing and pottery.
The Abbasid Caliphate
In architecture, new
styles were developed.
Buildings were
commonly centered
around a patio area.
Minarets, towers from
which the faithful were
called to prayer,
topped mosques.
The Abbasid Caliphate
Great pieces of poetry
and literature,
including The Arabian
Nights and the
Rubaiyat, enriched
Muslim culture.
“A jug of wine, a loaf
of bread, and thou
besides me singing in
the Wilderness…”
The Abbasid Caliphate
Although responsible for much of the
advancement of Islamic culture, the
Abbasids found their vast empire
increasingly hard to manage and
effectively govern.
The dynasty failed to address the problem
of succession, and high taxes made the
leaders less and less popular.
The Role of Women
The role of women in Islam went through
several changes from the time of
Muhammad through the Abbasids.
In the early days of Islam, women were
not required to wear the veil and were not
secluded from public.
These customs were adopted by Islam
after later contact with Middle Eastern
The Role of Women
The Qur’an urges modesty in both men
and women, but no particular cultural
dress was stipulated.
From the time of Muhammad onward,
Muslim men, following the example set in
the Qur’an, were allowed to have up to
four wives, provided they could afford to
treat them equally (an exception was
made for Muhammad who actually had
nine wives after Khadija’s death).
The Role of Women
Most of Muhammad’s marriages were
motivated by political or humane reasons;
some of his wives were the widows of his
lieutenants killed fighting for Islam, while
others were the daughters of important
Arab leaders.
One of them was A’isha, the daughter of
Abu Bakr (Muhammad’s dearest friend and
closest advisor).
The Role of Women
Muhammad’s wives lived in separate
rooms around the courtyard of his house,
and he took turns staying with them.
The Qur’an gave husbands the right to
chastise “unruly” wives, but Muhammad
was said to be a very kind and indulgent
Women, by contrast, could have only one
The Role of Women
Women in Islam, in many ways, had more
privileges than women in other societies at
the time:
Both men and women were equal before
Female infanticide was forbidden.
Women could own property both before
and after marriage.
The Role of Women
Islamic women could initiate divorce and
could remarry if divorced by their
But the legal privileges enjoyed by women
were eventually counterbalanced by their
seclusion from public life to prevent the
gaze of men (in some cultures, women
weren’t even supposed to go to the
market if men were there).
The Role of Women
Women of the Qur’an
include Eve
domestic harmony and
bliss…the other half of
Adam; and not solely
responsible for the
couple’s removal from
Eden), and Mary.
The Role of Women
Mary (the mother of Jesus)
is the figure many Muslim
women aspire to be like; she
was pious, sincere in her
worship of God, and innocent—
the perfect image of femininity
and tenderness (there is even a
chapter devoted to her in the
Only Abraham, Moses, and
Noah are mentioned in the
Qur’an more than Mary.
The Role of Women
Mary and the baby
Jesus from an early
Islamic (Persian)
Muhammad once
declared that his
daughter Fatima would
have the highest place
in Heaven after the
Virgin Mary.
Islamic law forbade enslaving other
Muslims, except in the case of prisoners of
Slavery was not hereditary…children of a
slave woman and a Muslim man were
considered free.
Muslims were frequently known to free
their slaves, especially if they converted to
Islam during their servitude.
The Qur’an
The revelations and teachings of
Muhammad were not compiled into a
single document until several years after
his death.
Islamic holy scriptures (the messages
Muhammad received that are believed to
be God’s final revelations to humankind)
are contained in the Qur’an (or Koran).
The Qur’an
The Qur’an is a book
about the same length
as the New Testament
and is one of the most
remarkable scriptures
in history for it has
molded the lives of
millions of people and
given birth to a
powerful and enduring
The Qur’an
Unlike the holy scriptures of the Jews and
Christians, which are religious narratives,
laws, poems, proverbs, prophecies and
prayers dating from different time periods
and written by different men, every word
of the Qur’an was delivered to the world
from the lips of a single man (Muhammad)
over a 22 year period in the Seventh
The Qur’an
Some of the Qur’an’s chapters, or suras,
are short fiery warnings of doom,
proclaiming a Day of Judgment and
demanding the worship of one God.
Others discuss the Biblical prophets and
the lessons of their lives; others lay down
detailed regulations concerning the family,
property, and justice.
The Qur’an
In the Qur’an,
everything in life is
regulated, going
from absolutely
forbidden to what’s
absolutely required
to lead a good,
peaceful, and moral
life and create a
harmonious society.
Besides the Qur’an are
the Hadiths (literally
means “speech” or
The Hadiths refer to
anything Muhammad was
thought to have said;
remembered and
recorded and passed
down by his early
Besides the Qur’an, Islam is held
together by very strict moral laws (called
the Sharia (or Shariah)—which in Arabic
means “the clear, straight path”).
Over centuries, the Sharia became very
rigid, and by 1200 C.E. it was thought to
be perfect (which meant there was little
room for interpretation).
Having sacred laws created a strong bond
among Muslims (which was important
since they lived in so many areas).
From India to North Africa, despite
different cultures and languages, people
had common threads of faith (in Islam)
which united much of the world.
Belief in the hereafter is fundamental to
Islam, and according to the Hadiths, the
afterlife will be preceded by the Day of
Judgment, a final reckoning of all souls,
who will collectively stand before God.
Islamic tradition believes that this last day
will follow a series of apocalyptic events
that will center around two main figures in
Hadith literature: the Mahdi (a
descendant of Muhammad) and Jesus.
According to the Hadiths, preceding the end of
days the sun will rise in the West, devastating
earthquakes will happen more frequently, time
will pass more quickly, and terrible afflictions
will come from the East.
Dijjal, the Antichrist, will come to power in
Throughout the world there will be
widespread moral decadence, oppressive
rulers, sexual immorality, greed and
avariciousness, and killing.
At this dire point, the Mahdi (means “the
guided one”) will appear followed by Jesus,
and together through them, the final battle
of good versus evil will take place.
The Mahdi and Jesus will vanquish the
Antichrist, and Islam and peace will be reestablished on earth.
According to Islamic tradition, Jesus will then
marry, have children, die a natural death, and
be buried next to Muhammad in Medina.
It is after the second coming of Jesus that life
on earth as we know it will end, and God’s final
judgment will take place.