Islam Change Over Time The spread of Islam throughout the world was among the most significant worldwide movements in history. Beginning as the faith of a small community of believers in Arabia in the seventh century, Islam rapidly became one of the major world religions. The core beliefs and culture of this faith is the belief that Muhammad (570-632), a respected businessman in Mecca, a commercial and religious center in western Arabia, received revelations from God that have been preserved in the Qur’an. The core of Islam remains the same today after 1396 years.
Islam still translates to “submission” and Muslims still live by the Qur’an and follow the 5 Pillars of Islam. However, throughout the Pre-Islamic, Umayyad, and Abbasid eras, the political structure that governed the societies that followed Islam differed over the years with some minor continuity. The pre-Islamic era lasted from 400 B. C until the revelation of the Prophet Mohammad in 610 C. E. The lack of Islam evidently created a lack of true unity. The basic social unit of the Bedouin was the kin-related clan.
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Clans were linked to larger tribal groupings, however these tribal units seldom met together. Additionally, clans would often feud over water rights, animals, or even perceived sights to clan members’ honor, all of which often led to violence. The base religion of the pre-Islamic era was polytheistic, which may have led to the segregation and rivalry between clans. Occasionally, clans would meet as tribes during times of war or severe crisis. The political structure was very loose and was subject to change instantaneously to reflect the current situations of the area.
In Muslim culture, the sociopolitical community that was created in Medina during the time of the Muhammad-Umayyad era provides the model for what a truly Islamic state and society should be. In contrast to tribal groups, the new community, or ummah, was open to anyone who made the basic affirmation of faith, and loyalty to the ummah was to supersede any other loyalty, whether to clan, family, or commercial partnership. The political structure of the new community was rather informal.
In this early era, the characteristically Islamic sense of the community of believers, rather than a concept of church or state, was firmly established as the central institutional identification for Muslims. In this way, Islam can be described as a way of life rather than as a religion separate from politics or other dimensions of society. Because of his role as the messenger of God, Muhammad’s own personal actions and words had special prestige. When Muhammad died, Muslims faced the challenge of creating institutions to preserve the community. This is the Middle period of Islam.
Muslims believe that the revelation was completed with the work of Muhammad, who is described as the seal of the prophets. The leaders after Muhammad were described only as caliphs, or successors to the Prophet, and not as prophets themselves. The first four caliphs were companions of the Prophet and their period of rule (632-661) is described by the majority of Muslims as the age of the Rightly Guided Caliphate. This was an era of expansion during which Muslims conquered the Sasanid (Persian) Empire and took control of the North African and Syrian territories of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire.
The Muslim community was transformed from a small city-state controlling much of the Arabian Peninsula into a major world empire, in this case the Umayyad empire, extending from northwest Africa to central Asia. The emphasis on the sole sovereignty of God provides an important foundation for Islamic political thinking throughout the centuries, challenging both theories of monarchy and absolutism, as well as later theories of popular sovereignty. Like most major world religions, Islam’s historical development has affected political, economic, and military trends both inside and outside its primary geographic zones of reach.
Islam appeared in Arabia in the 7th century . Within a century of Muhammad’s first recitations of the Qur’an, an Islamic state stretched from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to Central Asia in the east. This empire did not remain unified for long; the new polity soon broke into a civil war known to Islamic historians as the Fitna, and later affected by a Second Fitna. After this, there would be rival dynasties claiming the caliphate, or leadership of the Muslim world, and many Islamic states and empires offered only token obedience to a caliph unable to unify the Islamic world.
Despite this fragmentation of Islam as a political community, the empires of the Abbasid caliphs and their predecessors were among the largest and most powerful in the world. The creation of Islamic Empires marked the beginning of the third and last time period of this essay. Arabs made many Islamic centers of culture and science and produced notable scientists, astronomers, mathematicians, doctors and philosophers during the Golden Age of Islam.
Technology flourished; there was much investment in economic infrastructure, such as irrigation systems and canals; stress on the importance of reading the Qur’an produced a comparatively high level of literacy in the general populace. A new empire rose from the warrior elite sovereign of the Ummayad clan, reuniting followers of Islam and Muhammed torn apart from the disputes over caliph succession and resolving internal conflicts; united again, the Arabs’ newfound strength propelled them to conquer foreign lands and claim it as their own.
Sassanids were poorly prepared for oncoming Arabs and the Byzantines were resilient, but weakened by their frontiers. Bountiful booty from conquered lands were divided amongst Ummayad bureaucrats and military recruits; however, as the quantity began to diminish, it was the leaders’ treasury for the taking. Futhermore, mawali’s ( non-Arab converts to Islam) exclusion from the umma meant deprivation of privileges such as tax exemptions and even a share of the booty.
Not only were the Ummayads exuding their luxurious greed, succession disputes arose from temporary relief and led to the empire’s downfall. Triumphant Abbasid campaigns emerged over fallen leaders, made possible by their promises including mass tax exemption for all mawalis in vast lands under their reign, which was idealistic, foolish, and quixotic at most. New territory gains made the Abbasid’s hold over much larger range of lands difficult, considering delayed communications and travel in accordance to the time period.
Women’s subjugation intensified due to urban expansion and commercial growth with the rise of merchant classes; as the ever lustful ‘succubus’ creatures they are to men, women were required to wear harem veils, masking their seduction with the exception of concubines possessing neoplatonic beauty. Furthermore, without the use of a writing system, Arabs had no other method to record and interpret knowledge outside of their world. The Islamic experience over the centuries provides a rich collection out of which political systems can be created, and Muslim societies in the modern era vary in their interpretations of that repertoire.
Even specific movements like Islamist renewals are not monolithic or identical. The Pre-Islamic era involved tribal units that were made up of kinship clans with loose regulations but high rivalry and tension between clans. The Muhammad-Umayyad era brought standardized government to Arabia with the coming of Islam. Muhammad took up leadership as the prophet of God but could not proclaim himself a divine monarch because he was merely a person and was open to interpretation.
With the start of the Umayyad Empire, the leaders after Muhammad were described only as caliphs, or successors to the Prophet, and not as prophets themselves. These caliphs became the political rulers in Arabia for the time. During the reign of the Abbasid Empire, the basic political structure remained the same, but much of the political influence was from Turkish military powers that had migrated to Arabia. Despite these differences, all Muslims continued to affirm the basic core of the faith in monotheism as defined by the revelation to Muhammad and preserved in the Qur’an.