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Question: What Is The History Of Islam Very Briefly?


The early history of Islam begins with the life of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). Muslims believe that he was the last and final Messenger of God that was sent to humanity. He was sent to complete the mission of the previous Messengers (including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and others) of calling people to believing in God and following the guidance and teachings of God. A more complete discussion of his life and the beginnings of Islam can be found in the answer to the question Who is Mohammad and what did he do?

Mohammad (pbuh) was born in the city of Makkah in Arabia in the year 570 AD. He was an orphan and lived a difficult childhood. He later began to work as a trader, and became known among the people of Makkah as "the honest and trustworthy one" due to his excellent moral character. At the age of 40, Mohammad (pbuh) started to receive revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. He had been chosen as a Messenger of God, and continued to receive the revelation, known as the Quran, for 23 years until his death at the age of 63.

Mohammad (pbuh) was a revolutionary, fighting for freedom. His mission was to free humanity from worshipping false idols, to free the poor from the stranglehold of the rich and to free people from the oppression imposed on them by priests and the so-called "holy men" of false religions. For these reasons, the people in positions of power in Makkah rejected his message. They were not willing to give up their complete power and enourmous wealth and to share it with those who are less fortunate. The ruling class of Makkah strongly opposed Mohammad (pbuh) and his new message, the message of Islam. They attempted to defame him among the people, and they physically and verbally harrassed him and his followers. The Muslims were subjected to torture, imprisonment, expulsion, economic and social boycotts. Many of them were killed because of their beliefs. But they remained patient and steadfast, and they held onto their new religion of Islam. After 13 years of enduring these difficult conditions, the Muslims emigrated to the city of Al-Madinah and established the first Muslim nation. They were able to practice their religion freely for the first time.

The tribes of Arabia began to embrace Islam. The numbers and the power of this new Muslim nation was increasing rapidly, and this caused the people of Makkah to attack the Muslims several times. However, the Muslims eventually were able to spread their influence and power throughout Arabia, and they returned to Makkah and took power there. Mohammad (pbuh), refused to take revenge for himself or his followers. He offered the people of Makkah freedom, and refused to punish them, except for a handful of those who had murdered Muslims before.

Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) passed away at the age of 63, leaving behind a message and a legacy that has survived to our day. The Muslim nation at his death covered all of the Arabian peninsula. The Muslims gathered to discuss who will succeed Mohammad (pbuh) as the leader of the Muslim nation. Representatives of all tribes and families gathered, and after some discussions, the companions of Mohammad (pbuh) nominated his closest friend, Abu Bakr, for the position of Khalifa (or Caliph). The rest of the tribes of Makkah accepted the nomination and Abu Bakr became the leader of the Muslims.

During his two years as Khalifa, Abu Bakr accomplished many objectives. At the start of his rule, some Arab tribes attempted to take power from the Muslims by force. Others refused to recognize the new government, and wanted to revert to their old, unjust, tribal system of law. Abu Bakr rallied the Muslims and was able to regain control over Arabia. He then continued spreading the Islamic message by sending letters and ambassadors to neighbouring nations. However, the Persian and Roman empires, having been the super powers of the time, were not happy about the new strength of the Arabs. They had controlled the trade routes through Arabia for centuries, and this new Muslim nation was threatening their economic and military hold over the Middle East. The Persians mobilized their armies in Iraq, and the Romans mobilized their armies in Syria and Palestine. Both empires paid Arab tribal chiefs that were close to their borders to harrass the Muslims and to defend their borders. Abu Bakr mobilized Muslim armies to face these threats at the borders of the new Muslim nation, and to end the unjust rule of the Arab tribal chiefs.

On his death bed, Abu Bakr selected Omar ibn Al-Khattab as his successor. Omar continued the work of Abu Bakr in defending the Muslim nation. The people of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Palestine and Persia were liberated from the oppression and unjust rule of the Persian and Roman empires during the rule of Omar. In fact, when the Muslims reached Jerusalem, the people of Jerusalem agreed to join the new Muslim nation. However, they refused to hand over the keys to the city except to Omar himself. The Muslims sent a messenger to Omar, who was thousands of miles away in Al-Madinah, informing him of the situation. In order to avoid any bloodshed, Omar travelled to Jerusalem and personally took possession of the keys to Jerusalem. He signed an agreement with the people of the city that ensured their religious freedoms and rights, and offered them protection from any external threats. The agreement also stated that Christian churches are not to be destoryed or taken over. Additionally, for the first time in 500 years since their expulsion from the Holy Land, Jews were allowed to practice to live in Jerusalem and to practice their religion freely. During his rule, the Islamic state developed an administrative system and a public treasury that ensured that the state was able to fund public projects.

The rule of Omar lasted 10 years. On his death bed, Omar selected a group of six of the most qualified Muslims to succeed him in the position of Khalifa. He asked them to convene a meeting and to choose a successor from amongst themselves. Othman ibn Affan was selected, and he was proclaimed the Khalifa after Omar. It is interesting to note that this type of peaceful transition of power from one leader to the next was something unheard of at the time. There was no bloodshed and no war. Power was not passed from father to son or to the next of kin. Abu Bakr was elected in a more or less general election, where each tribe had representatives present. Omar was personally selected by Abu Bakr. Othman was elected by a council of the most qualified Muslims. These were some of the first examples in history of the peaceful transistion of power between leaders.

Othman expanded the power of the Muslims even further. The first Muslim navy was built and become one of the most powerful in the world. The Muslims during this time benefitted from the knowledge and science of the Persian and Roman empires. More people and tribes accepted Islam, and the Muslim nation expanded further into Asia and Africa. Othman also sent envoys carrying the message of Islam to China and Sri Lanka. Among his other achievements were the many public institutions and infrastructure projects that were completed during his rule, including mosques, markets, irrigation canals, water wells and the sea port of Jeddah on the Red Sea. The rule of Othman continued for 12 years.

During the last years of his rule, a rebellion occured against Othman and a group of rebels surrounded his house demanding that he step down. Most of the Muslims did not support this rebellion, and they came out to defend Othman carrying their weapons. However, Othman instructed them to leave and go to their homes. He did not want a civil war to be started due to this situation, and he was ready to accept the consequences. The rebels then invaded his house and assassinated him. The Muslims then gathered in the main mosque of Al-Madinah to elect a new leader, and Ali ibn Abi Taleb, the cousin of Mohammad (pbuh) was elected as the Khalifa. However, internal divisions that were started with the rebellion against Othman continued, and parts of the Muslim nation refused to recognize Ali as the Khalifa, most notably Syria. His reign continued for about five years, and was consumed with internal divisions and battles among Muslims. Ali is considered to be the last pious Khalifa. After his death, the Islamic system of government reverted to a monarchy, were leadership was transferred from father to son.

The Ummayads, an Arab tribe, established the Ummayad Caliphate around the year 660 CE. Although the political situation had deteriorated and internal divisions had appeared, the Muslim nation continued to expand its power and influence during the Ummayad years. The Muslim nation became possibly the most powerful and wealthy nation on Earth. The Ummayads moved the capital of the Muslims from Al-Madinah to Damascus in Syria. The Ummayads remained in power until around the year 750 CE. During their rule, the Ummayads greatly expanded the Muslim nation, which now stretched from southern France in the west, through Spain and Portugal, all of northern Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Syria, Iraq, Persia, parts of Turkey and up to the borders of China in the east.

After the fall of the Ummayads in Damascus, they continued to rule over Spain, known as Al-Andalus, for several centuries. Under Islamic rule, Al-Andalus became a nation where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived peacefully side by side. Al-Andalus became a beacon of learning attracting European and Arab scholars and scientists. The city of Cordoba became the largest and most prosporous city in Europe, and possibly the entire world. Muslims and non-Muslims often came from abroad to study in the famous libraries and universities of Al-Andalus. Jews were given many freedoms that they had never experienced before in Europe, and Jewish religious, cultural, and economic life blossomed during this period. This has led many historians to consider this period in Al-Andalus to be the Golden age of Jewish culture.

The Abbasid caliphate overthrew the Ummayads and moved the capital of the Muslim nation from Damascus to Baghdad around the year 760 CE. During the Abbasid rule, the Muslim world became the unrivaled intellectual center for science, philosophy, medicine and education. A "House of Wisdom" was established in Baghdad, where scholars from around the world gathered to share their knowledge and translate ancient knowledge from previous civilizations such as the Greek, Roman and Persian empires. Among the scholars at the "House of Wisdom" was Al-Khawarizmi, who invented Algebra in the year 820 CE, and was the first to suggest systematic methods of solving linear and quadratic equations. He also invented the decimal system, and was the first to use the number "zero", which are the fundemental concepts upon which modern mathematics was built. In fact, the word algorithm is derived from his name, and the word Algebra is derived from the Arabic term Al-Jabr, which he was the first to use.

Some of the first universities in the world were also established during this time, most notably Al-Qarawiyyin University in Morocco, Al-Azhar University in Egypt and the Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. Towards the end of the Abbasid rule, rival nations began to emerge within the Muslim nation. Abbasid rule ended in 1258, when the Mongols invaded and sacked Baghdad.

When the Abbasid rule was in decline, several other powerful dynasties emerged and began to exert their influence in various parts of the Islamic world. These include the Fatimids, Ayyubids and Mamluks who were in control of Egypt, Syria and Palestine. The Islamic world also came under a major attack from Christian Europe during this period, when the Pope declared the Crusades, the purpose of which was to capture Palestine and specifically Jerusalem from the Muslims. The Crusaders were able to capture parts of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. They also captured Jerusalem and committed one of the worst massacres in history, killing Muslims, Jews and even Christians of other sects. In the year 1187 CE, Saladin and the Ayyubids recaptured Jerusalem and defeated the Crusaders. The Mamluks contined to fight the crusaders until they were forced out of all the lands they had captured.

The next major Muslim caliphate to emerge was the Ottoman Empire, which lasted from 1299 CE 1923 CE. The Ottomans regained control over most of the Muslim nation, with their rule extending throughout northern Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and a large portion of South Eastern Europe. The Ottoman Empire ended the reign of the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire, with the capture of Constantinople in 1453 The Ottoman rule reached the outskirts of Vienna and parts of the Italian peninsula. The Ottoman Empire began to decline around the year 1700, losing control of many of its lands and falling behind Europe in economic, military and scientific progress. The Ottomans suffered defeat in World War I, having joined with the Germans and Austria-Hungary. The Ottoman caliphate was abolished in 1924 and replaced by the republic of Turkey.

Islam also spread in South-East Asia in the 12th century, and several Islamic kingdoms emerged there. It is interesting to note that the spread of Islam into South-East Asia occured completely peacefully. No Arab or Islamic armies ever crossed the oceans to invade these lands. In fact, the people of South-East Asia came into contact with the Islamic civilization through Arab traders. Some of these Arab traders settled in South-East Asia and lived among the locals. They married and had families there, and became well respected for their honesty, trustworthiness and high moral character. These individuals were held in high regard by the community, and they started to share the message of Islam with the local population. The people were very receptive to Islam and began to accept Islam in large numbers. Today, Islam is the majority religion in Malaysia, Indonesia, the southern part of the Phillipines and southern Thailand.

During the late 1800's and especially after the end of World War I, large parts of the Muslim world had fallen to European powers. Britian, France and Italy controlled large colonies in North Africa, the Middle East and Southern Asia. During the 20th century, the Muslim nations of the world slowly regained independence. Today, there are more than 50 counties that have a majority Muslim population.

This concludes the brief overview of the general history of Islam. It is not meant to be extremely detailed. It is only meant to give an overview of how Islam started, how it progressed through the centuries leading up to our modern times. It is also meant to give the reader a sense of the Islamic civilization, having been the world's super power in military, economic and scientific progress for many centuries.

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