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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 8 - Islam Spreads

What will we be learning in this unit?
  • How did Muslims conquer many lands?
  • What movements emerged within Islam?
  • Why did the empire of the caliphs decline?


 Age of Conquests
  • As the first caliph, or successor to Muhammad, Abu Bakr faced an immediate crisis. The loyalty of some Arab tribal leaders had been dependent on Muhammad's personal command. They now refused to follow Abu Bakr and withdrew their loyalty to Islam. Abu Bakr succeeded in reuniting the Arabs, based first and foremost on their allegiance to Islam. Once reunited, the Arabs set out on a remarkable series of military conquests.


   Age of Conquests
  • Under the first four caliphs, Arab armies marched from victory to victory. They conquered great chunks of the Byzantine empire, including the provinces of Syria and Palestine, with the cities of Damascus and Jerusalem. Next, they rapidly demolished the Persian empire. The Arabs then swept into Egypt.


 Age of Conquests
  • Later Muslim armies conquered even more lands. From Egypt, Muslims dashed west, defeating Byzantine forces across North Africa. In 711, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain and pushed north into France. There, in 732, they were defeated at the battle of Tours. The Muslim advance into Western Europe was halted. Even so, Muslims would rule parts of Spain for centuries. Elsewhere, Muslims besieged the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, but failed to take the well-defended city. Later waves of conquests would expand Muslim rule farther into the continents of Asia and Africa.


 Age of Conquests
  • Why did the Arabs have such an astonishing series of victories? One reason was the weakness of the Byzantine and Persian empires. These longtime rivals had fought each other to exhaustion. Many people in the Fertile Crescent welcomed the Arabs as liberators from harsh Byzantine or Persian rule. Bold, efficient fighting methods also contributed to the Arab success. The Bedouin camel and horse cavalry mounted aggressive and mobile offensives that overwhelmed more traditional armies.
  • Perhaps the key reason for Arab success, however, was the common faith Muhammad had given his people. Islam knitted a patchwork of tribes into a determined, unified state. Belief in Islam and the certainty of paradise for those who fell in battle spurred the Arab armies to victory.


Age of Conquests
  • The advancing Arabs brought many people under their rule. Muslim leaders imposed a special tax on non-Muslims, but allowed Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians to practice their own faiths and follow their own laws. As Muslim civilization developed, many Jews and Christians played key roles as officials, doctors, and translators. In time, many non-Muslims converted to Islam.
  • Many nomadic peoples in North Africa and Central Asia chose Islam immediately. Its message was simple and direct, and they saw its triumph as a sign of God's favor. Moreover, Islam had no religious hierarchy or class of priests. In principle, it emphasized the equality of all believers, regardless of race, sex, class, or wealth. In later centuries, Turkish and Mongol.


Age of Conquests

  • For centuries after the battle of Tours, Christian forces fought to reconquer Spain. Only in 1492 did they seize the last Muslim stronghold. In the meantime, Spain flourished as a center of Muslim civilization. 
  • Muslim rulers in Spain presided over brilliant courts, where the arts and learning thrived. In general, they were more tolerant of other religions than Christian rulers of the time. At centers of learning such as the city of Crdoba, rulers employed Jewish officials and welcomed Christian scholars to study science and philosophy. Architects built grand buildings, such as the Alhambra, a fortified palace in Granada. Its lovely gardens, reflecting pools, and finely decorated marble columns mark a high point of Muslim civilization in Spain.

 


Age of Conquests
  • Muslim civilization also thrived in Sicily and other Mediterranean islands seized by Arab forces in the late 800s. Muslim rule lasted briefly. But even after knights from Normandy gained control of Sicily, it remained strongly Arabic in culture. Muslim officials governed the island well, and merchants and farmers helped the economy prosper. Muslim poets, philosophers, and scientists enriched the courts of Norman kings.


 Movements within Islam
  • Not long after Muhammad's death, divisions arose within Islam over his successor. The split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims had a profound impact on later Islamic history. 
  • The Sunni felt that the caliph should be chosen by leaders of the Muslim community. Although the Sunni agreed that the caliph should be a pious Muslim, they viewed him simply as a leader, not as a religious authority.


  Movements within Islam
  • The Shiites, on the other hand, argued that the only true successors to the Prophet were descendants of Muhammad's daughter and son-in-law, Fatima and Ali. The Shiites believed that the descendants of the Prophet were divinely inspired. The Sunni believed that inspiration came from the example of Muhammad as recorded by his early followers. 
  • Ali became the fourth caliph, but he was assassinated in 661 in a struggle for leadership. Later, his son, too, was killed. Many other Shiites died in battle against Sunni, trying to install their candidates for caliph. Shiites grew to admire martyrdom as a demonstration of their faith.


Movements within Islam
  • Like the schism between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, the division between Sunni and Shiite Muslims has survived to the present day. Members of both branches of Islam believe in the same one God, look to the Quran for guidance, and make the hajj. But numerous differences have emerged in such areas as religious practice, law, and daily life. Today, about 90 percent of Muslims are Sunni. Most Shiites live in Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. The Shiite movement itself has split into several different factions.


  Movements within Islam
  • A third tradition in Islam emerged with the Sufis, Muslim mystics who sought communion with God through meditation, fasting, and other rituals. Sufis were respected for their piety and miraculous powers. 
  • Like Christian monks and nuns, some Sufis helped spread Islam through missionary work. They carried the faith to remote villages, where they blended local traditions and beliefs into Muslim culture. 


 Empire of the Caliphs
  • After the death of Ali, the Umayyad family set up a dynasty that ruled the Islamic world until 750. From their capital at Damascus in Syria, they directed the spectacular conquests that carried Islam from the Atlantic to the Indus Valley. 
  • Even as victories expanded the Arab empire, the Umayyads faced numerous problems. First, they had to adapt from desert life to ruling large cities and huge territories. To govern their empire, the Umayyads often relied on local officials, including educated Jews, Greeks, and Persians. As a result, Byzantine and Persian traditions of government influenced Arab rulers.


Empire of the Caliphs
  • After the death of Ali, the Umayyad family set up a dynasty that ruled the Islamic world until 750. From their capital at Damascus in Syria, they directed the spectacular conquests that carried Islam from the Atlantic to the Indus Valley. 
  • Even as victories expanded the Arab empire, the Umayyads faced numerous problems. First, they had to adapt from desert life to ruling large cities and huge territories. To govern their empire, the Umayyads often relied on local officials, including educated Jews, Greeks, and Persians. As a result, Byzantine and Persian traditions of government influenced Arab rulers.


   Empire of the Caliphs
  • While conquests continued, vast wealth flowed into Umayyad hands. When conquests slowed in the 700s, economic tensions increased between wealthy Arabs and those who had less. Many Muslims criticized the court at Damascus for abandoning the simple ways of the early caliphs. Shiites hated the Umayyads because they had defeated Ali and killed his son, dishonoring the Prophet's family. Unrest also festered among non-Arab converts to Islam, who under the Umayyads had fewer rights than Arabs.


  Empire of the Caliphs
  • The Abbassid caliph al-Mansur chose as the site of his new capital Baghdad, a small market town in present-day Iraq. "It is an excellent military camp," he wrote. "Besides here is the Tigris to put us in touch with lands as far as China and bring us all that the seas yield." Under the Abbassids, Baghdad exceeded Constantinople in size and wealth.
  • In Baghdad, Persian traditions strongly influenced Arab life, but Islam remained the religion and Arabic the language of the empire. Poets, scholars, philosophers, and entertainers from all over the Muslim world flocked to the Abbassid court. Visitors no doubt felt that Baghdad deserved its title "City of Peace, Gift of God, Paradise on Earth."


Empire of the Caliphs
  • Many gardens, dotted with fabulous fountains, gleamed in the sunlight. Above the streets loomed domes and minarets, the slender towers of mosques. Each day, a mosque official called a muezzin climbed to the top of the minaret and called the faithful to prayer. In busy market courtyards, merchants sold goods from Africa, Asia, and Europe. The palace of the caliph echoed with the music of flutes, cymbals, and tambourines, along with the voices of female singers.
  • The city of Baghdad reached its peak under the reign of caliph Harun al-Rashid, who ruled from 786 to 809. For centuries, in both Europe and the Muslim world, Harun was admired as a model ruler. He was viewed as a symbol of wealth and splendor.


Decline of the Caliphate
  • Starting about 850, Abbassid control over the Arab empire fragmented. In Spain, Egypt, and elsewhere, independent dynasties ruled separate Muslim states. As the caliph's power faded, civil wars erupted, and Shiite rulers took over parts of the empire. Between 900 and 1400, a series of invasions added to the chaos.


Decline of the Caliphate
  • In the 900s, the Seljuk Turks migrated into the Middle East from Central Asia. They adopted Islam and built a large empire across the Fertile Crescent. By 1055, a Seljuk sultan, or authority, controlled Baghdad, but he left the Abbassid caliph as a figurehead. As the Seljuks pushed into Asia Minor, they threatened the Byzantine empire. Reports of Seljuk interference with Christian pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem led Pope Urban II, in 1095, to call for the First Crusade.


Decline of the Caliphate
  • In 1099, after a long and bloody siege, Christian crusaders captured Jerusalem. For 150 years, the city passed back and forth between Muslims and Christians. The Muslim general Salah al-Din, or Saladin, ousted Christians from Jerusalem in 1187. They regained it after his death, holding it until 1244.
  • Christians also ruled a few tiny states in Palestine, but they were eventually expelled. In the long term, as you read, the Crusades had a much greater impact on Europe than on the Muslim world.


 Decline of the Caliphate
  • In 1216, Genghiz Khan led the Mongols out of Central Asia across Persia and Mesopotamia. Mongol armies returned again and again. In 1258, Hulagu, grandson of Genghiz, burned and looted Baghdad, killing the last Abbassid caliph. Later, the Mongols adopted Islam.
  • In the late 1300s, another Mongol leader, Timur the Lame, or Tamerlane, led his armies into the Middle East. Though he himself was a Muslim, Tamerlane's ambitions led him to conquer Muslim as well as non-Muslim lands. His victorious armies overran Persia and Mesopotamia before invading Russia and India.


  Looking Ahead
  • As the 1200s drew to a close, the Arab empire had fragmented and fallen. Independent Muslim caliphates and states were scattered across North Africa and Spain, while a Mongol khan ruled the Middle East. After five centuries of relative unity, the Muslim world was as politically divided as Christian Europe. 
  • Even though the empire crumbled, Islam continued to link diverse people across an enormous area that Muslims called the Dar al-Islam, or "Abode of Islam." In the future, other great Muslim empires would arise in the Middle East and India. Muslims also benefited from an advanced civilization that had taken root under the Abbassids. In the next section, you will read about the achievements of their Muslim civilization in art, literature, and other fields of endeavor.