The Arabian Peninsula the birthplace of Islam is one of the hottest and driest regions in the world, consisting mainly of deserts. Since ancient times tribes of the nomadic race had populated the region. Considered the descendents of Noah’s third son Shem they are called Semites. Over the centuries theses Semitic people have migrated into the Fertile Crescent and were assimilated to into existing civilizations.
In the sixth century AD, north of the Arabian Peninsula two great powers were locked in a seesaw power struggle. The Christian Byzantine kingdom, successors of the Roman Empire was to the Northwest and controlled the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa and the lands of Palestine. In the northeast lay the Zoroastrian Persian kingdom. Both the Byzantine and Persian kingdoms had client Arab tribes allied to their cause of trade and conquest.
The Arabian Peninsula became a land of refuge for those seeking escape from both of these empires. Heretic Christian sects like the Nestorians, and Jewish tribes escaping the oppressive Byzantines found refuge in the protective deserts and cities of the Peninsula.
Arabia was divided into tribes and cities. Each city had gods and goddess. Once a year the tribes and cities of Arabia would meet in the city of Mecca during an event known as the Hajj. In Mecca, the Kaba (Cube), a large cube shaped building housed 360 idols from all the tribes of Arabia. The Kaba was the center of Arabian religious life. Here all the warring tribes would put aside their differences as they circled the Kaba. From the Kaba they would proceed to the other shrines outside of Mecca during this five day religious event. The Hajj was a tradition that Arabs of the peninsula remembered going back hundreds of years.
It was in this world Mohammad Ibn Abdallah was born in the year 570 AD in the city of Mecca. His father died before he was born and his mother Amina died when he was 6 years old. Al-Muttalib his grandfather took charge of the youth and died 2 years later. Abu Talib his uncle adopted young Mohammed into his family and raised him as his own son. At the age of 12, young Mohammed was taken on a caravan-trading venture to Syria and experienced the world outside of Arabia for the first time. Here Islamic tradition informs us that a Christian monk named Buhaira, proclaimed Talib’s young nephew is the last prophet and warns him about the Jews. For the next 13 years little is known of his life except that he was involved in caravan trading in and out of Arabia.
At the age of 25, Mohammed marries a 40 year old wealthy, widow named Khadijah who owns trading caravans. During the next 15 years of his life he interactes with Arabs known as the Hanefites. Hanefites were Arabs who rejected idol worship and were searching for the true religion. They looked to the religion of the Jews and Christians as being close to the goal. The Hanefites abandonded their idols and would retreat to the caves of Mecca in meditation and prayer.
At age 40 Mohammed had his first vision in the year 610 AD. He was in a cave on Mt. Hera and thought he was demon possessed. He went to Khadijah and told her about the event. She consulted with her uncle Waraca, a Hanefite who converted to Christianity, who assured them Mohammed vision was from God. Waraca declared Mohammed was a prophet to the Arab peoples, Waraca died 2 years later never becoming a Muslim.
Mohammed proclaimed Allah as the one true god and rejected the idol worship of Mecca. Khadijah, his wife, was Mohammed first convert to Islam. Few listened to Mohammed’s message and animosity grew against him as he confronted the idol worshippers and preached his religion to Mecca. Abu Talib his uncle and his tribe the Hasims protected him during this early Meccan period. In 619 Khadijah and Abu Talib died. Abu Talib headed the Hasim clan, which Mohammed was a member. The new leader of the Hasim tribe his uncle Abu Lahab refused to protect Mohammed. During the next 3 years Mohammed would fear for his life. He sought refuge and protection in nearby cities from those seeking his life.
Then in 621 during the Hajj, Arab tribes from the city of Yatrob later to be called Medina, came for the annual pilgrimage. They met Mohammed and thought him to be a prophet and invited him to their city to bring peace and settle disputes between the warring tribes. Yathrob was founded by three Jewish tribes and the idea of monotheism was familiar to its Arab tribesmen. The Arabs of Medina had been told by Jewish tribesmen about the coming Messiah who would one day conquer the world including the Arabs. The Arab tribes hoped to find this individual before the Jews. Meeting Mohammed they thought he was the one.
The Hejira (Flight)
The next year the situation became intolerable for the Muslims and in in June 622 they made what has become known as the Hejira or flight. In small groups the 150 Muslims of Mecca left for the city of Medina 280 miles to the north. When word reached those of Mecca about the escape to Medina they tried to kill Mohammed. Mohammed and Abu Bakr were able to sneak out of the city and escape to Medina by another route in September 622.
In Medina the warring Arab tribes submitted to Mohammed leadership and prophet-hood. The Jewish tribes rejected his claims of prophet and ridiculed his revelations. With most of the new arrivals from Mecca without work they needed to earn a living. Ghazu or caravan raiding was a way tribes would prevent one tribe from becoming to powerful. The Muslims in Medina began to rob the caravans heading toward Mecca. This is where the Muslim doctrine of Jihad was created.
With their caravan business being threatened, Mecca responds with one thousand solders at the battle of Bedr in March 624 the Muslims fielded 300 warriors. The battle went to the Muslims. Mohammed proclaimed his victory was a sign from Allah and his status in Medina was magnified. The lack of enthusiasm by one of the Jewish tribes caused them to be expelled by the victorious Muslim army. The direction of prayer was also changed from Jerusalem to Mecca as the Jews rejected Mohammad’s prophet-hood.
Exactly one year latter Mecca amassed 3000 solders at the battle of Uhud and the Muslims fielded 1000 solders. The battle did not go as planned. The Muslims defeated by Mecca retreated to Medina. Disheartened, Muslims blamed the second Jewish tribe as conspirators against their cause. Their homes and possessions were confiscated, and they are expelled from the city in 626 AD.
The Meccans in the hope of ending the caravan raids by the Muslims assembled 10,000 solders to attack the city of Medina in the year 627. After a two weeks siege in the hot sun they are unable to penetrate the fortress like city. They returned to Mecca. After this unsuccessful attack, Mohammed and the Muslims attacked the last remaining Jewish tribe. The tribe surrendered to the mercy of Mohammed. The men were killed and the women and children were sold into slavery.
The Muslims then begin to consolidate their power with the surrounding Arab tribes and cities.
Mecca began to feel the economic impact of its trading losses and Mohammed’s power grew in the north. They reluctantly signed the 10 year Hudaybiah peace agreement with Mohammed and the Muslims in march 628. Muslims are allowed to return to Mecca and worship at the Kaba once a year. The people of Mecca would leave their city so the Muslim could come and worship.
Two years later, in January 630, Mohammed leads 10,000 warriors to Mecca and nullifies the treaty of Hudaybiah because Muslims have been killed. The city submits to Mohammed and his warriors and accepts him as prophet. Mohammed goes to the Kaba and destroys the 360 idols in the structure. From Mecca, the "Muslims” wage Jihad on the surrounding cities forcing them to accept Islam as their religion and Mohammed as their prophet.
Mohammed made his final Hajj in 632 and died unexpectedly 3 months later in June. His friend and father in law Abu Bakr (Father of Aisha) succeeded him as leader of the Muslims
Abu Bakr received the title "Caliph” or successor of Mohammed. Their was a struggle for about who would succeed Mohammad, some felt Ali the husband of Fatima, Mohammed’s daughter deserved the position. Under Abu Bakr Islam's power in Arabian peninsula was completed. In 634 AD Abu Bakr died and was succeeded by Umar (Omar) the 2nd Caliphate.
Umar advanced the Muslim armies against Syria and Palestine. In 637 A D, the armies of Byzantium lost control of Jerusalem to Islam. Uthman the 3rd Caliph succeeded Umar. Uthman ordered a complete revision of the Quran, this would cause a mutiny. He was killed and his death was considered justified because the mutineers claimed he ceased to be a Muslim. Following Uthman’s There was a struggle between rival factions of Islam about who was the rightful successor to lead Islam.
Ali the 4th Caliph, Mohammad’s son-in-law and husband of Fatima, succeeded Uthman everybody did not accept him as rightful Caliphate. War broke out between the rival groups, his succession was short lived, 2 years later he was killed, the Shi’a (Party of Ali) mourned the death of Ali, and his two sons (Grandsons of Mohammed). Ali is revered as a saint by the Shi’a who are dominate in Iran and Iraq. The Shi’a feel Ali was the rightful successor to Mohammed and don’t recognize the three earlier Caliphs. The Sunnis accept Ali and the first three Caliphate as legitimate.
After the defeat the Byzantines and Persian kingdoms in successive battles, the armies of Islam advanced on Europe. Within 100 years of Mohammad’s death the armies of Islam reached the city of Tours, in France. In Tours the Muslim advance was stopped.
In the Battle of Tours Charles Martel the grandfather of Charlemagne defeated the advancing Muslim armies. From Tours Muslim power in Europe retreated and in the 1489 Fredinand and Isabella of Spain defeated the last remaining forces in Spain. Later, the Ottoman Empire would retreat from the rest of Europe.
In the East, Islam was also expanding by the 13th century; Islam had reached the Pacific Ocean. The Islamic faith now spanned from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Ferdinand Magellan, in his attempt to bypass Muslim controlled areas in the Indian Ocean, found the passageway to Asia via the Atlantic Ocean. His desire was to bring Christianity to Asia, before Islam. Magellan was successful in introducing Christianity to the Philippines (Named after King Philip of Spain) Islam and Christianity met in the Philippines as the Northern Islands were converted to Christianity and the Southern parts of the Philippines and Indonesia were converted to Islam. Islam and Christianity became the two major rival religions in the world.