The Oxford History of Islamby John L. Esposito
- LendMe LendMe™ Learn More
- Editorial Reviews
- Product Details
- Related Subjects
- Read an Excerpt
- What People Are Saying
- Meet the author
Lavishly illustrated with over 300 pictures, including more than 200 in full color, The Oxford History of Islam offers the most wide-ranging and authoritative account available of the second largest--and fastest growing--religion in the world. John L. Esposito, Editor-in-Chief of the four-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, has gathered together sixteen leading scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim, to examine the origins and historical development of Islam--its faith, community, institutions, sciences, and arts. Beginning in the pre-Islamic Arab world, the chapters range from the story of Muhammad and his Companions, to the development of Islamic religion and culture and the empires that grew from it, to the influence that Islam has on today's world. The book covers a wide array of subjects, casting light on topics such as the historical encounter of Islam and Christianity, the role of Islam in the Mughal and Ottoman empires, the growth of Islam in Southeast Asia, China, and Africa, the political, economic, and religious challenges of European imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and Islamic communities in the modern Western world. In addition, the book offers excellent articles on Islamic religion, art and architecture, and sciences as well as bibliographies. Events in the contemporary world have led to an explosion of interest and scholarly work on Islam. Written for the general reader but also appealing to specialists, The Oxford History of Islam offers the best of that recent scholarship, presented in a readable style and complemented by a rich variety of illustrations.
"Both bold brush strokes and subtle shadings make up this masterful, comprehensive picture of Islamic faith, law, science, art, philosophy, and politics in the Middle East, Africa, South and Central Asia, and the West from the seventh century to the present. Drawing on the expertise of renowned authorities from several disciplines, it is written in an accessible style andrare for books these dayslavishly illustrated. This work will stand not simply as an erudite synthesis of Muslim thought and practice over the centuries, but as an elegant vade mecum for all those curious about the fastest growing religion in the world today."James Piscatori, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies
"A good introduction to Islamic history is hard to find, and readers interested in the world's second largest religion can rejoice at finding this one. Esposito...has brought together a fine cadre of scholars for this anthology. Fifteen articles cover almost every subject that might interest a novice in the field: philosophy, science, art, architecture, and histories of Islamic empires and civilizations. The art (100 b&w photos and 200 four-color illustrations) comes fast and thick, adding a great deal to the text."Publishers Weekly
- Oxford University Press
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- Barnes & Noble
- NOOK Book
- File size:
- 25 MB
- This product may take a few minutes to download.
Read an Excerpt
Muhammad and the Caliphate
POLITICAL HISTORY OF THE ISLAMIC EMPIRE
UP TO THE MONGOL CONQUEST
Fred M. Donner
Islam as a religion and civilization made its entry onto the world stage with the life and career of the Prophet Muhammad ibn Abd Allah (ca. 570-632) in western Arabia. After his death, a series of successors called caliphs claimed political authority over the Muslim community. During the period of the caliphate, Islam grew into a religious tradition and civilization of worldwide importance. A properly historical view of Islam's appearance and early development, however, demands that these processes be situated against the cultural background of sixth-century Arabia and, more generally, the Near East.
The Near East in the sixth century was divided between two great empires, the Byzantine or Later Roman Empire in the west and the Sasanian Empire in the east, with the kingdoms of Himyar in southern Arabia and Axum in the Horn of Africa constituting smaller players in the political arena. This Byzantine-Sasanian rivalry was merely the most recent phase in a long struggle between Rome and Persia that had lasted for more than five hundred years. The two empires not only raised competing claims to world dominion, they also represented different cultural traditions: the Byzantines espoused Hellenistic culture, while the Sasanians looked to ancient Iranian and Semitic cultural traditions and rejected Hellenism as alien. This culturalantagonism was specifically exacerbated by religious rivalry; in the third and fourth centuries the Byzantine emperors had declared themselves champions of Christianity, which itself had been heavily imbued with Hellenistic culture, whereas the Sasanian Great Kings espoused the Iranian faith known as Zoroastrianism (Magianism) as their official religion. On the eve of Islam, religious identities in the Near East, particularly Greek or Byzantine Christianity and Zoroastrianism, had thus acquired acutely political overtones.
Although both the Byzantine and Sasanian empires espoused official religions, neither empire had a religiously homogeneous population. Large populations of Jews were scattered throughout the Near East; they were especially numerous in such cities as Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Hamadan, Rayy, Susa, the Byzantine capital at Constantinople, and the Sasanian capital at Ctesiphon. Many more Jews were settled in places like Tiberias in Palestine and in southern Mesopotamia, where Jewish academies continued a long tradition of religious learning and contributed to producing the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds (the authoritative bodies of Jewish tradition) during the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. Christians were numerous, perhaps the majority of the Near Eastern population in the sixth century, but they were divided into several sects that differed on points of theology. Each sect viewed itself as the true or orthodox ("right-confessing") Christianity and dismissed the others as heterodox. The Byzantine (or Greek Orthodox) faith, the official church of the Byzantine Empire, was widely established in Greece, the Balkans, and among the large Greek-speaking populations of Anatolia (Asia Minor). In Syria-Palestine and Egypt, however, the Byzantine church was mainly limited to the towns. A few Byzantine Christians were even found in the Sasanian Empire, mainly in Mesopotamia, but their position was precarious. Christians following the teachings of Bishop Nestorius (Nestorianism) had been forced to leave the Byzantine Empire after Nestorius was deposed for heresy by the Council of Ephesus in 431. They had to take refuge in the Sasanian Empire, scattered widely between Mesopotamia, Iran, and the fringes of Central Asia. Another Christian sect, the Monophysites, had been declared a heresy by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but Monophysitism was nonetheless the creed of most indigenous Christians of Axum, Egypt, Syria-Palestine, Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Iran, particularly in the countryside. Zoroastrians were found mainly in Iran and southern Mesopotamia; few lived outside the Sasanian Empire. Communities of all three religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism)which are called the scriptural religions because they shared the idea of a divinely inspired, revealed scripturewere also found in Arabia.
The Byzantines and Sasanians fought :many wars between the fourth and sixth centuries in an effort to secure and extend their own territories. They competed with particular intensity for key border zones such as upper Mesopotamia and Armenia. They also tried to seize key towns from one another to gain control over, and therefore to tax, the lucrative "Orient trade." This commerce brought southern Arabian incense, Chinese silk, Indian pepper and cottons, spices, and other goods from the Indian Ocean region to the cities of the Mediterranean basin. The Byzantines and Sasanians also attempted to gain the advantage by establishing alliances with lesser states in the region. The most important of these client states was the Christian kingdom of Axum, with which the Byzantines established an uneasy alliance. Both Byzantines and Sasanians also formed alliances with tribal groups who lived on the Arabian fringes of their territories. Arabia was wedged between the two empires. The Sasanians established a series of protectorates over tribes and small states on the east Arabian coast and in Oman, whereas the Byzantines brought tribes on the fringes of Palestine and Syria into their orbit.
Arabia occupied a strategic position in relation to the Orient trade, a fact that led both empires to intervene decisively in its affairs during the sixth century. In 525 the Byzantines persuaded Axum to invade and occupy the kingdom of Himyar in Yemen and its important trading ports, thus bringing the Red Sea trade to the Indian Ocean securely within the Byzantine orbit. In 575, however, the Sasanians, invited by the Himyarites, sent an expedition to oust the Axumites from Yemen, which for the next several decades was a Sasanian province ruled by a governor appointed by the Great King. Some time later, the Sasanians inaugurated the last and greatest of the Sasanian-Byzantine wars by launching a series of assaults on Byzantine territories farther north. Between 611 and 620 the Sasanians seized most of Anatolia, all of Syria-Palestine, and Egypt from the Byzantines. But in the next decade the Byzantine emperor Heraclius regained these territories, and in 628 he was able to conquer the Sasanians' Mesopotamian heartlands, depose the Great King, and install another, more docile king. These dramatic events formed the political backdrop to the career of Islam's Prophet Muhammad in the western Arabian towns of Mecca and Medina.
Although distant from the main centers of high civilization in the Near East, Arabia was not isolated. The Arabian peoples were aware of and affected by political, economic, and cultural developments in the more highly developed surrounding lands of the Near East. Trends in religion in particular resonated in various parts of Arabia. Many religions had established themselves in Arabia on the eve of Islam. Christianity was well-established in parts of eastern Arabia along the Persian Gulf coast and in Oman as well as in Yemen. The Yemeni city of Najran in particular later became famous because of the martyrdom of Christians there during the sixth century. Christianity had also spread among some of the pastoral nomadic tribes that occupied the northern fringes of the peninsula, where it bordered on Syria and Mesopotamia, and may also have been current among some pastoral groups farther south, in northern and central Arabia itself. Judaism was similarly widespread; important Jewish communities existed in the string of oasis towns stretching southward along the northern Red Sea coast of Arabia, including the towns of Khaybar and Yathrib (later called Medina, the Prophet Muhammad's adoptive home). Jews were also found in eastern Arabia and especially in Yemen. Zoroastrianism was far less widespread in Arabia than either Christianity or Judaism, but a small following existed, particularly in parts of eastern Arabia and Oman, where the Sasanian Empire had established protectorates among the local populations. Arabian communities of all three scriptural religionsChristianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianismsometimes maintained contact with their co-religionists in the lands surrounding Arabia, where these religions were much more firmly established. For example, bishops from lower Mesopotamia were sent to Yemen, and Arabian Jews may have had some contact with the great academies of Jewish learning in Mesopotamia.
In addition to the scriptural religions, Arabia also was home to a host of local animist cults, which attributed divine powers to natural objectsthe sun, the moon, Venus, certain sacred rocks or trees, and so on. These cults seem to have been late vestiges of the animist religions once widespread among the peoples of the ancient Near East, such as the Babylonians and Canaanites. Although animism still existed in Arabia in the sixth century, it was being supplanted by the scriptural religions in many areas. The remaining strongholds of these animistic cults were in central and western Arabia, especially in towns such as Taif and Mecca, which contained sanctuaries (harams) within whose confines members of the cult were forbidden to fight and had to observe other rules of the culta feature that made such harams important centers for markets and for social transactions of all kinds. In Mecca the cultic center was a cube-shaped building called the Kaaba, embedded in which was a meteoric black stone around which cult members performed circumambulations to gain the favor of the cult's dieties.
The religious, cultural, economic, and political environment in Arabia and the Near East was thus a very complex one. Before examining Islam's rise, however, it is important to note a feature of the Near Eastern landscape that profoundly influenced the course of the region's history, including its history during the early Islamic centuries. There are extensive tracts of agriculturally marginal land in the Near East; these marginal lands consist either of arid steppe and desert, as in much of Arabia, or of semiarid mountainous terrain, as in parts of Iran and Anatolia. In these regions settled life, particularly larger towns and cities, tended to be widely scattered and in some cases virtually nonexistent. Some such areas, however, could sustain thinly scattered populations of pastoral nomads or mountaineering peoples living in small settlements and relying on a mixture of subsistence agriculture and herding. These nomadic or mountaineering peoples were often outside the effective control of any state, and they organized themselves politically in kinship-based entities (tribes) or in larger confederations of tribes. In many cases they also had strong martial traditions, apparently rooted in such diverse factors as their skill with riding animals and a culturally based attitude of superiority toward nonpastoralists or lowlanders. The result was that for several millennia the history of the Near East was marked by the repeated intrusion of powerful pastoral nomads or mountain tribespeople into the richer, settled lands and towns belonging to the various states of the region. Sometimes these intrusions were merely raids along a state's borders, usually undertaken when a state was not strong enough to defend a district effectively. During other intrusions, however, nomads or mountain tribes toppled the ruling dynasties of moribund states and supplanted the rulers with members of their own group, who became a new ruling dynastyusually settling down in the state's heartlands in the process, but keeping a power base in the marginal region from which they had come. This process of periodic intrusion by peoples from the marginal regions into the state-dominated areas of the Near East is one of the main themes in the area's history.
The Prophet Muhammad and the Nascent
Community of Believers
The historian, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, who wishes to write about the life of the Prophet Muhammad faces grave problems of both documentation and interpretation. The first rule of the historian is to rely whenever possible on contemporary documentsyet for the life of the Prophet these are virtually nonexistent. Fortunately, many accounts produced within the Muslim community in later times provide us with copious information about the Prophet. When dealing with such accounts, however, the historian must try to identify and set aside those features that reflect not the Prophet's life and times but later attitudes and values of all kinds that have been interpolated into the story of his life by subsequent writers, whether consciously or unconsciously. This is never an easy task, and a significant measure of honest disagreement inevitably emerges among historians engaged in the work of evaluating the reported events and providing a sound interpretation of them. The brief sketch of the Prophet Muhammad's life and career that follows is drawn largely on the basis of the traditional narratives, but the choice of traditional materials selected, and the interpretation of their overall meaning, reflect mainly the author's general concerns as an historian interested in questions of social and political integration and in the evolution of religious movements.
Little is known with certainty about the Prophet Muhammad's early life. He was born Muhammad ibn (son of) Abd Allah in the small western Arabian town of Mecca some time around 570 C.E. (traditional accounts differ on the date). He belonged to the Hashim clan, one of the smaller segments of the tribe of Quraysh that dominated Mecca. At an early age Muhammad was orphaned and came under the guardianship of his paternal uncle, Abu Talib, head of the Hashim clan. Mecca was the site of an important pagan shrine, the Kaaba, during Muhammad's youth. The Quraysh tribe served as guardians and stewards of the cult of Hubal, centered on this shrine. The tribe was also involved in trade; although they probably dealt mainly in humble goods such as hides, their commercial activity gave them contact with much of Arabia and the surrounding lands, and it provided them with a measure of experience in the organization and management of people and materials.
Traditional sources portray Muhammad as having been a promising and respected young man who participated in both Mecca's cultic activities and its commerce. He also seemed to have had an inward, contemplative side, however, which expressed itself in his periodic withdrawal to secluded spots for prolonged periods of meditation and reflection. It was during such a retreat, in about 610, that he began to have religious experiences in the form of visions and sounds that presented themselves as revelations from God. These experiences initially so terrified him that he sought comfort from his first wife, Khadijah, but the visions occurred again and slowly Muhammad came to accept both the message itself and his own role as God's messenger. The revelations, coming to Muhammad as sonorous utterances, were eventually collected to form the Quran (sometimes spelled "Koran" in earlier English writings), which is sacred scripture for Muslims. To Muhammad and to all who have since followed his message, the Quran is literally the word of God, God's own eternal speech.
The message Muhammad received in these revelations was a warning that only through devotion to the one and only God and through righteous observance of the revealed law could people attain salvation in the afterlife. Some revelations thus emphasized the oneness and omnipotence of God, Creator of the world and of everything in it, including humankind. Others warned that the Last Judgment was near; and then those who had lived righteously would be sent to heaven and those who had lived evil lives would be sent to eternal damnation in hell. Other revelations laid out the general guidelines for a righteous existence. These included worship of the one God and rejection of idols and false gods; regular prayer; almsgiving and charitable treatment of the poor, widows, orphans, and other unfortunates; observance of strict modesty in dealing with the opposite sex, and of humility in all one's affairs; the need to work actively for the good and to stand up against evil when one sees it; and many other injunctions. Still other revelations retold stories of earlier prophets (among them Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus) who, like Muhammad, had been charged with bringing God's truth to their people, and who provided for Believers inspiring models of righteous conduct: as the Quran put it, "Surely in this there is a sign for you, if you believe."
Many aspects of Muhammad's message were conveyed in concepts and sometimes in words that were already familiar in Arabia. In part, this was what made Muhammad's message comprehensible to his first audience. The ideas of monotheism, a Last Judgment, heaven and hell, prophecy and revelations, and the emphasis on intense, even militant, piety were widespread in the Near Eastern scripturalist religions in the sixth century. In this sense Muhammad's message can be seen as an affirmation and refinement of certain trends among the scripturalist religions of the late antique era, perhaps as an effort at their reformation. To adherents of the pagan cults of western Arabia, however, including Muhammad's fellow tribespeople of Quraysh, his message came as a blunt repudiation of all they stood for. He proclaimed their polytheism as incorrect and profoundly sinful, an affront to the one God's unity, in itself sufficient to condemn them eternally to hellfire. He made it clear that in their behavior, they failed in many ways to meet God's demands for humility, for modesty, for charity for the less fortunate, and especially for pious dedication to God himself through regular prayer. Muhammad pointed out that the tribe's pagan ancestors, even his own grandfathers, were similarly destined for perditionan idea certain to generate outrage in a tribal society that highly revered ancestors. The Quraysh were aghast.
Much of Muhammad's prophetic career, from the time he began publicly preaching in about 613 until his death in 632, was consumed with warding off and eventually overcoming the opposition of his own tribe, the Quraysh. His early followers included some close relatives, such as his paternal cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib (ca. 600-61), as well as a few prominent Meccans of leading clans, such as Uthman ibn Affan (ca. 575-656) of the Umayya clan. He was also joined at first by many people of lower social stature in Meccaclients, freed slaves, and individuals of lesser clans of Qurayshperhaps because their weaker family ties made it easier for them to act in accordance with their conscience. As his following grew, however, the opposition and abuse by the remaining Quraysh hardened; conditions became so bad for some that Muhammad arranged for a number of them to take refuge with the ruler of Axum in perhaps about 615. His situation in Mecca became critical with the death, in close succession, of his wife Khadijah and his uncle Abu Talib, in about 619; almost simultaneously, he had lost his main source of emotional support and his main protector, because Abu Talib, although he never embraced the Prophet's message, had nonetheless used the solidarity of the Hashim clan to defend Muhammad.
As Muhammad's situation worsened, he began to look to other towns in western Arabia for supporters. It was around 620 that Muhammad won over a few people from Yathrib, an oasis town about 250 miles (400 km) north of Mecca. For some years the population of Yathrib, which included two predominantly pagan tribes and a number of Jewish tribes, had been riven by intractable internal strife. Over the next two years more people of Yathrib agreed to observe the Prophet's message, until finally a large delegation of people from Yathrib agreed to follow his teachings and invited him to come to Yathrib as arbiter of their disputes and de facto ruler of the town. Muhammad gradually sent his beleaguered followers from Mecca to safety in Yathrib, following them himself and taking up residence in 622. Yathrib henceforth came to be known as Medina (from the Arabic madinat al-nabi, "the Prophet's city"). The Prophet's move (the hijra, emigration) to Medina marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life and that of his followers. They were no longer a small, oppressed religious group in Mecca; they were now an autonomous religio-political community of Believers that dominated the oasis of Medina. Muhammad's hijra to Medina in 622 was thus the beginning of Islam's long life as a political force, a fact symbolized by the selection of that year to serve as the first year of the Islamic era.
During his roughly ten years in Medina (622-32), Muhammad consolidated his control over the town's disparate population, and he extended Medina's power and influence in Arabia. When Muhammad first arrived, Medina was still full of smouldering rivalries: between the town's two main Arab tribes; between the muhajirun ("emigrants," the Believers who had emigrated to Medina from Mecca or elsewhere) and the ansar ("helpers," Muhammad's first followers in Medina, who had invited him and his Meccan followers to find refuge with them); and between some of Medina's Jews and the new Believers. While some of Medina's Jews appear to have supported Muhammad, those who challenged Muhammad's claim to prophecy, and in some cases cooperated with his political enemies (or whose leaders did), were handled harshly in a series of confrontationsexiled with loss of their lands, enslaved, or executed, depending on the case. Beyond Medina the most determined opponents of Muhammad's efforts to extend his influence and his message were his erstwhile fellow citizens, the Quraysh of Mecca.
Mecca and Medina became locked in an intense struggle to win over other towns and groups of nomads, a struggle in which Mecca, with its established commercial and tribal ties, initially appeared to have the advantage. Muhammad, however, launched raids against Meccan caravans, seizing valuable booty and hostages, and, more important, disrupting the commercial lifeblood of Mecca. After a series of raids and battles against the Quraysh that seem to have been indecisive in their results (at Badr in 624; Uhud, 625; and Khandaq, 627), Muhammad negotiated a truce with the Quraysh at Hudaybiya in 628. In exchange for some short-term concessions, the truce gave Muhammad and his followers the right to make the pilgrimage to Mecca's shrine, Kaaba, in the following year. The treaty also gave Muhammad a free hand to subdue one of Mecca's key allies, the oasis of Khaybar north of Medina, whose large Jewish population (some of them refugees from Medina) was hostile to the Prophet. This done, it was relatively easy for Muhammad to turn on Mecca itself, which submitted virtually without bloodshed in 630. Aware of how dangerous the Quraysh could be if their opposition continued, and wishing to win their support, Muhammad was careful to spare their pride. He tied them to his movement by awarding many of their leaders important commands and positions of authority.
While Muhammad was engaged in his struggle against Mecca, he was also slowly working to bring more and more nomadic groups and towns within Medina's orbit, either as loose allies or as full-fledged members of the community of Believers. In doing so, he used the appeal of his religious message, promises of material gain, or, on occasion, outright force to bring recalcitrant groups under Medina's sway. His conquest of Mecca opened the way for victorious campaignswith the help of the Qurayshagainst the other main town of western Arabia, Taif, and against the remaining groups of powerful nomads in the region. By this time Muhammad's position as the most powerful political leader in western Arabia had become apparent to all, and tribal groups that had until then tried to hold Medina at arm's length now sent delegations to tender their submission. By Muhammad's death in 632, his community had expandedmore by religious persuasion and political alliance than by forceto include all of western Arabia, and he had made fruitful contact with some groups in the northern Hijaz, Nejd, eastern Arabia, Oman, and Yemen.
Early Expansion of the Community and State
Upon Muhammad's death in 632, the young community of Believers faced a set of difficult challenges. The first and most basic challenge was to resolve the question: Were the Believers to form a single polity under one leader even after Muhammad's death, or were they to belong to separate communities, each headed by its own political leader? In the end the Believers chose to remain a single community and selected the Prophet's father-in-law and staunch supporter, Abu Bakr, to be his first successor. Abu Bakr and subsequent successors as leaders of the Islamic community are known in Islamic tradition as caliphs (from the Arabic khalifa, meaning "successor" or "representative").
Abu Bakr and the Believers in Medina faced a second immediate challenge. Although the towns of Medina, Mecca, and Taif and the nomadic groups between them were for the most part quite steadfast in their support of Abu Bakr, many groups in Arabia that had once tendered their submission to Muhammad tried to sever their political or religious ties with Medina once the Prophet was dead. Some claimed that they would remain Believers but contended that they did not owe the tax that the Prophet had collected, which Abu Bakr continued to demand. Other groups gave no assurances that they would remain Believers. In still other cases religious leaders arose claiming to be prophets themselves.
Against these threats, Abu Bakr acted quickly and decisively in what is usually called the Apostasy (or Ridda) wars, during which he sent armed bands of Believers to the main centers of opposition in Arabia: Yemen, Nejd, and Yamama. By making shows of force first among wavering tribes, these campaigns picked up allies as they proceeded, and grew large enough to defeat the more serious opponents, such as the "false prophet" Musaylima of Yamama. These campaigns were followed by incursions into Oman and northward toward the Arabian fringes of Syria and Mesopotamia (what is now Iraq). In 634, at the end of two years of campaigning, Abu Bakr and the Believers of Medina had brought the entire Arabian peninsula under their control, opening the way to further conquests that would, within a few more decades, make the Believers the masters of a vast empire. This was possible partly because the almost ceaseless military activity of the Ridda wars provided the setting in which the loosely organized war parties formed at the beginning of the Ridda wars began to assume the character of a standing army, with a core of devoted supporters (mainly townsmen of Medina, Mecca, and Taif) leading a larger mass of allies drawn from a wide variety of Arabian tribes. It also represented the domination of the pastoral and mountaineer populations of Arabia by the embryonic new state in Medina, which was headed by an elite group composed almost exclusively of settled townsmen.
The Ridda wars brought the Believers to the very doorsteps of the Byzantine and Sasanian empires, but they also did more. The emergence in Arabia of a state where none had been before, one that could harness the military potential of the Arabian population, made it possible for the Believers to organize campaigns of conquest that penetrated the great empires and wrested vast territories from them. The great wave of early conquests was the main work of the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab (r. 634-44), whom Abu Bakr upon his deathbed selected to lead the Believers. The conquests were further continued during the first years of the reign of the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (r. 644-56).
The caliphs launched one set of offensives against the Byzantine-controlled territories of Palestine and Syria, home to many Arabic-speaking tribes (part of the primary audience to which the Quran had been addressed). These incursions elicited defensive reactions from the Byzantine authorities in Syria, against whom several battles were fought. Eventually, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius sent a large army from Anatolia to secure Syria against the threatening Believers, but to no avail; his force was decimated at a battle along the Yarmuk valley (east of the Sea of Galilee) in 636. Most of the countryside and towns of Syria and Palestine fell to the Believers shortly thereafter; the only exceptions were some coastal towns such as Ascalon and Tripoli, which held out for years longer because the Byzantines could supply them by sea. From Syria the Believers sent campaigns into northern Mesopotamia, Armenia, and against the Byzantine frontier in southern Anatolia. An expeditionary force from Syria also wrested the rich province of Egypt from the Byzantines, conquering the commercial and cultural hub of Alexandria in 642.
At the same time as the offensives in Syria and Palestine, the Believers were faced with impending clashes with the Sasanian Empire in what is now southern Iraq. The early contacts of the Believers with the Arabic-speaking pastoral nomads of this region, and their increasing boldness in penetrating Iraq's interior, had caused the Sasanians to mobilize their armies to resist them, but they fared no better than the Byzantines. In a great battle in 637 at al-Qadisiyah (modern Kadisiya) in southern Iraq, the Sasanians were decisively broken, opening the rich alluvial lands of Iraq to occupation by the armies of the Believers. From southern Iraq the Believers sent campaigns into Khuzestan and Azerbaijan, and others pursued the fleeing Sasanians into the Iranian highlands. Gradually the main towns of western Iran, and with time areas farther east, fell to the Believers. By the mid-650s the Believers ruling from Medina had loose control over a vast area stretching from Yemen to Armenia and from Egypt to eastern Iran. And from various staging centers in this vast area, the Believers were organizing raids into areas yet further afield: from Egypt into Libya, North Africa, and Sudan; from Syria and northern Mesopotamia into Anatolia; from Armenia into the Caucasus region; from lower Mesopotamia into many unconsolidated districts in Iran and eastward toward Afghanistan and the fringes of Central Asia.
An important feature of the early expansion of the Believers was its quality as a religious movement, but this was colored by the presence of the state. The caliphs and their followers believed, of course, in Muhammad's message of the need to acknowledge God's oneness and to live righteously in preparation for the imminent Last Day. They saw their mission as jihad, or militant effort to combat evil and to spread Muhammad's message of monotheism and righteousness far and wide. But their goal seems to have been to bring the populations they encountered into submission to the righteous order they represented, not to make them change their religionnot, at least, if they were already monotheists, such as Christians and Jews. For this reason the early Believers collected tribute from conquered populations but generally let them worship as they always had; only pagans and at times Zoroastrians appear to have been coerced into embracing Islam or had their places of worship sacked.
The astonishing extent and rapidity of this process of expansion and conquest can only be understood if the nature of the expansion it represented is recognized. It was, first and foremost, the expansion of a new state based in Medina. The ruling elite of this state were mostly settled townsmen of Mecca, Medina, and Taif, who commanded growing armies composed mainly of pastoral nomads from northern and central Arabia or mountaineers from Yemen. It was not an expansion of nomadic or mountaineering peoples as such. The state-sponsored quality of the expansion is reflected in a significant measure of centralized direction of the expansion movement by the caliphs and their circle, who appear to have coordinated strategy between various fronts, as well as in certain bureaucratic institutions that were established during the early conquests. The institutions included the creation of a regular payroll (diwan) for the soldiers, as well as the gathering of the expeditionary forces in distant areas into tightly clustered garrison settlements that became the nucleus of new cities: Kufa and Basra in southern Mesopotamia, Fustat in Egypt, and somewhat later, Mary in northeastern Iran (651) and Qayrawan in Tunisia (670). These garrisons helped the Believers live apart from the vast conquered populations they ruled, and so to avoid assimilation; later, as cities, these garrisons would be among the most important centers in which early Islamic culture was elaborated.
The consequences of the conquests were momentous. They established a large new empire in the Near East, destroying the Sasanian Empire completely and occupying important parts of the Byzantine Empire. Moreover, the leadership of this new empire was committed to a new religious ideology. New economic structures were created with the demise of the old ruling classes and the rise of a new one, consisting at first largely of people of Arabian origin. Property and wealthas well as political powerwere redistributed on a grand scale. Most important, the newly emergent state provided the political framework within which the religious ideas of the ruling Believers, who were but a small part of the population, could gradually spread among the conquered peoples. The many captives taken during the conquests came to be integrated into the tribes and families of their captors as clients (mawali), a fact that facilitated this transformation.
The Early Caliphate and the Question of Legitimacy
It was widely accepted in the early community of Believers that Muhammad could have no successor in his role as Prophet. But the early Believers decided that someone should succeed Muhammad as temporal head of the community. The first documentary references call the leader of the community of Believers not caliph but amir al-mu minin ("commander of the Believers"), and this may be the original term for the heads of the community, replaced only some time later by the term caliph, which was seen as synonymous but had the advantage of being found in the Quran. Whatever it was called, community leadership was at first informal and personal, much like tribal leadership. Only gradually did the caliphate acquire greater prestige and formality, as the original Islamic state grew into a far-flung empire during the early conquest era.
Although the first two caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar, appear to have enjoyed widespread support among the Believers, dissension arose under the third caliph, Uthman. The reasons for this discontent probably included practical concerns, such as a tapering off in the ready supply of conquest booty for individual soldiers, or feelings that newly conquered lands outside the garrison towns were not being made available for settlement by the soldiers and were instead being dominated by wealthy families. But they also seem to have involved perceptions that Uthman was not ruling with the fairness and disdain for private gain that most pious Believers expected of their commander. Uthman was accused (whether rightly, it may never be known) of favoring his relatives when making important and sometimes lucrative appointments, of diverting monies from the treasury, and of other transgressions, some fiscal, some moral. This dissension grew into a violent uprising, which culminated in the murder of the caliph in 656. These developments began the complicated series of events known as the First Civil War (656-61), which was a struggle for leadership of the community of Believers waged by the prominent heads of several families within the Prophet's tribe, the Quraysh. This is a chapter of the utmost importance in Islamic history, because this is when the main subgroups or sects that have constituted the Muslim community up to the present day first emerged.
After Uthman's murder the people of Medina, including some of the conspirators, recognized as the next caliph Ali ibn Abi Talibcousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, therefore a member of his clan, the Hashim. Ali's acclamation as caliph was opposed by significant segments of the community of Believers, howeverin particular by Uthman's kinsmen of the Umayyad clan, led by Muawiyah, and by leading members of some other Quraysh families, including the Prophet's favorite wife, Aishah, and two of Muhammad's early supporters, Talha ibn Ubaydallah and al-Zubayr ibn al-Awwam.
The bid for power by Talha, al-Zubayr, and Aishah was thwarted when their forces were decisively defeated at the "battle of the camel" near Basra in southern Iraq by the supporters of Ali (shiat Ali, Arabic for "party of Ali," often referred to simply as the Shia or Shiites). Ali and his backers established their base in the garrison town of Kufa. They eventually felt strong enough to march northward along the Euphrates River, intending to take the war to Muawiyah's base in Syria. Armies of the two sides met at Siffin along the middle Euphrates, near the frontier of Syria and Iraq, but many on both sides were uneasy about launching an attack against men who also considered themselves Believers, and who until recently had been their own comrades-at-arms. Skirmishing gave way, after many days, to a battle that was broken off when Ali and Muawiyah agreed that the matter should be settled by arbitration rather than fighting and withdrew to Kufa and Syria, respectively, to await the arbiters' decision. Eventually neither side was satisfied with the arbitration results, and a period of desultory raiding between Syria and Iraq ensued. During the period of arbitration and thereafter, Ali's situation was weakened by the withdrawal from his camp of some militant pietists, who came to be known as Kharijites (from the Arabic khawarij, possibly meaning "seceders"). Some of them may have broken with Ali because they feared that if he reached an accommodation with Muawiyah, they would be called to account for their participation in the mutiny against Uthman. Others may have felt that Ali's agreement to arbitrate revealed an impious lack of trust in God's ability to render a just verdict between the two rivals on the battlefield. As they said in their battle cry, "Only God has the right to decide." Ali was forced to massacre many Kharijites in a battle at Nahrawan in eastern Iraq, an event that shocked many and did little to advance his cause, because many Kharijites were renowned for their piety.
The First Civil War finally came to an end in 661, when a Kharijite assassin killed Ali (another was thwarted before he could assassinate Muawiyah). Shortly thereafter, the majority of Believers agreed to recognize Muawiyah as caliph, perhaps less because they thought him the ideal ruler than because, after five years of turmoil, they yearned for stability and unity among the Believers. Muawiyah's recognition as caliph marks the beginning of the Umayyad caliphate (661-750). During his two decades as caliph, Muawiyah relied on careful diplomacy and strong governors, especially in Iraq and the east, to maintain an uneasy peace in the community. He kept discontented Shiite supporters of Ali's family under control, and either subdued small uprisings of rebellious Kharijites or forced them to take refuge in frontier zones, beyond the effective reach of the caliph's agents. The relative stability of his reign enabled the Muslim armies once again to embark on raids and campaigns of conquest against neighboring areas.
But the issues that were at the heart of the First Civil Warhow leaders of the community of Believers were to be selected, and above all what were the criteria for leadershipremained unresolved. It is hardly surprising that a new wave of internal turmoil, the Second Civil War (680-92), broke out upon Muawiyah's death. The Second Civil War was a continuation of the first, because the same groups were involved, at the remove of one generation. The Umayyads, whose hold on the caliphate from their capital in Damascus was being challenged, were represented first by Muawiyah's son Yazid (r. 680-83), and then, after Yazid's early death and a period of confusion within the Umayyad family, by another relative, the caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (r. 685-705). The Umayyads faced widespread opposition. From Ali's old stronghold in Kufa, the Shiites, who claimed that the caliphate should belong to someone of Ali's family, rallied first around Ali's younger son, al-Husayn. After al-Husayn and his family were massacred in 680 by Umayyad troops at Karbala in Iraq, the Shiites continued to resist Umayyad rule in Kufa under the leadership of a charismatic leader named al-Mukhtar, who claimed to be acting in the name of one of Ali's sons.
Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr (624-92), son of that al-Zubayr whose bid for the caliphate had been so quickly ended in the First Civil War, established himself in Mecca and was recognized by many in the empire as caliph. His determination and broad support made his resistance to the Umayyads as formidable as his father's had been ephemeral. Meanwhile, several groups of Kharijites took advantage of the political disarray prevailing in the community of Believers to establish themselves in various parts of Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. In the end, after a dozen years of bitter strife, Abd al-Malik and his ruthless lieutenant, al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, were able to pacify first Iraq, then Arabia, and to bring the whole empire under Umayyad control.
The road the Umayyads had followed to victory, however, was littered with mangled dreams, memories of which would haunt the dynasty's future and contribute to its downfall. Yazid's generals, in the first unsuccessful efforts to subdue Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr in Mecca, had ruthlessly crushed an uprising in Medina while en route, and had even laid siege to the sacred precincts in Mecca, in the process starting a fire that destroyed part of the Kaaba. The Shiites had seen their hopes dashed, but the pitiless slaughter of Ali's son al-Husayn and his family at Karbala provided them with an act of martyrdom of mythical proportions. Nurturing the memory of this martydom deepened their hatred of the Umayyads and started a process whereby the Shiites began to feel themselves to be not merely a political party but a distinct subgroup within the Islamic community. In the course of working out the differences within their own house, the Umayyads had even managed to set some Syrian tribes against others in a way that would later undermine their efforts to build a cohesive army on these tribal groups.
The importance of the two civil wars goes far beyond their immediate political impact, however. These civil wars represented the arena in which Believers first openly debated the ways in which authority to lead the Islamic community could be legitimately claimed. Kharijites held that true piety and impeccably righteous behavior were the only qualities that provided true legitimation in an Islamic context. Others, notably the Alids and their Shiite supporters, who contended that only a member of Ali's family or of the Prophet's clan of Hashim should hold power, argued that legitimacy was essentially genealogical. Still otherssuch as the Umayyadsclaimed that the consensus of the community of Believers (jamaa, or coming together) was the most important element in establishing a legitimate claim to head the Islamic community. Later, some (including the Umayyads) would argue that their very ascent to power was an expression of God's will and therefore legitimate in its own right. These claims and counterclaims would be raised repeatedly in the centuries ahead.
It is therefore during the civil wars that the main sectarian subdivisions of the Islamic community first emerged: the Shiites, the Kharijites, and (retrospectively, through an ephemeral group known as the Murjia) the Sunni or orthodox majority sect of Islam, which came to be defined as much as anything by their rejection of the central beliefs of the Shiites and Kharijites. All members of these subgroups within the Islamic community justify their particular identity on the basis of their differing readings of the events of the civil wars, particularly the first war. The civil wars are thus the lens through which radiates the spectrum of groups making up the Muslim community. The ideal of a politically unified community of Believers (ummah) headed by a caliph eventually became unrealizable in practice, as the empire came to span thousands of kilometers and the community to embrace millions of people. Nonetheless, the institution of the caliphate (and indeed, the caliph himself) played an important role because it stood as a symbolic embodiment of Muslim religious unity. For this reason the institution was retained long after it had ceased to have real political meaning.
Apogee of the Caliphal Empire (700-950 C.E.)
The age of the first conquests and the civil wars (roughly 630-700 C.E.) had seen the establishment of the community of Believers as a loosely organized political entity headed by the first caliphs. The early community and state had been united (when they were united) not so much by institutional structures, most of which were still embryonic, but mainly by ideologythat is, by the Believers' conviction that they were engaged in a common effort to establish, in God's name, a new and righteous regime on earth. The depth of this conviction underlay the intensity with which the Believers had disagreed over the legitimacy of various rivals for the caliphate during the civil wars; but their commitment to a common cause also enabled the Believers to come together once again as a single political unit after the wars.
By the end of the second war in 692, the Believers had embraced more clearly than before their identity as Muslimsthat is, as a monotheist confession following the teachings of Muhammad and the Quran, and for this reason distinct from other monotheists such as Jews or Christians. During the two and a half centuries that followed the second war (ca. 700-ca. 950 C.E.), the rudimentary institutional structures of the early community of Believers fully matured, providing the caliphs with the military and administrative machinery needed to contain the divisions that have reverberated down through the subsequent history of the Islamic community since the civil wars. The period of 700 to 950, then, represented the apogee of the caliphal empirean age of political and communal expansion, great institutional and cultural development, and economic growth. The Umayyad dynasty was overthrown in 750 C.E. by a military uprising organized by the Abbasid family, descen-
What People are saying about this
An elegant vade mecum for all those curious about the fastest growing religion in the world.
Meet the Author
John L. Esposito is Professor of Religion and International Affairs and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. A past president of the Middle East Studies Association, he is the author of numerous books on the Muslim world, including Islam: The Straight Path and The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (both OUP). He lives in Washington, D.C.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
The authors of this book, while undoubtedly impressively knowledgeable in their respective fields are nonetheless also highly biased in favor of Islam. Terrorism is only briefly touched upon (mostly in John Esposito's chapter), it is never condemned; rather it is called "actions by a misguided few." Virtually all reports of violence towards the West are framed as reactions to Western prejudice. Some chapters are so dense as to be nearly incomprehensible, such as the chapter on the philosophy and theology of Islam. The chapter that details the practice of Dimmitude is one of the most interesting in the book. While the book is worth reading, the alert reader must never forget that these writers are Muslim apologists, one and all, and their viewpoints must be read with the admonition.
If you want to study Islam's history or just looking for basic understanding but you don't have this book, then your missing one of the best...or should I say 'the' best book on Islam's history. This book is worth much more than 50$. It discusses everything, from history to science, art to medicine, it is very well-written and organized too.