Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Islamic Expansion - from Mecca to Medina


The break up of the Mediterranean-centred world of Classical antiquity begun by the
barbarian invasions was completed by spectacularArab conquests in the seventh century.

From a highway that united all around its shores into a single cultural area, the
Mediterranean became a frontier between mutually
hostile civilisations.The origins of the Arab conquests can
be traced directly to their conversion to Islam.The faith,
meaning ‘submission to the will of God’,was founded by
Muhammad (c.570–632), a member of the Quraysh tribe
of Mecca, an important trading and religious centre on
Arabia’s main north–south caravan route.

Pre-Islamic Arabia was a land of religious diversity.
Most Arabs, including the Quraysh, were polytheists
but several Arab tribes had converted to Judaism and
there were many Nestorians, Monophysite Christians
and Zoroastrians. Muhammad was in his fortieth year
when he experienced the first of a series of revelations
that formed the basis of the Qur’an (or Koran), which
Muslims believe to be the word of God. Rather than
founding a new religion,Muhammad believed that he
was restoring the original religion of Abraham that
Jews and Christians had misinterpreted.

Muhammad’s first converts were members of his
immediate family and it was three years before he
preached in public. His emphasis on social justice
attracted converts among the poor and slaves but most
of the Quraysh were hostile. Muhammad was mocked
wherever he went. He and his followers were
boycotted, but tribal custom protected him from

Though he was unappreciated at Mecca, Muhammad’s reputation as a
religious visionary spread widely and in 622 he and his followers left Mecca for
Medina (then known as Yathrib), where he had been invited to act as a judge
between conflicting tribes. Known as the hijra (migration), this event marks the
beginning of the Muslim calendar. By negotiation with the tribes of Medina,
Muhammad established the first Muslim community or umma, a theocracy in which
religious and political authority was exercised by Muhammad acting in the name of
God. However, there was strong opposition to Muhammad from the Jews of
Medina.Muhammad had expected the Jews to welcome his religious teaching but
having failed to win them over he expelled them and distributed their property
among his supporters.One Jewish tribe who tried to resist, the Beni Quraidha, was
massacred.Other critics of Muhammad at Medina were silenced by assassination.

Muhammad made Medina a base from which to propagate Islam by diplomacy
and force, teaching his followers that it was their religious duty to make war on
unbelievers. Raiders were sent out to attack Meccan caravans travelling to and from
Syria, provoking war with the Quraysh. An unlikely victory by the small Muslim
army at Bedr in 624 gave apparent substance to Muhammad’s claims to be God’s
messenger. Mainly by diplomacy, Muhammad steadily won over more and more
tribes to Islam until, in 630, he captured Mecca without a fight. Stripped of its idols, the Ka’aba, Mecca’s pagan shrine, became the holiest place of Islam because of its legendary associations with Adam and Abraham. After his victory, Muhammad
continued to live at Medina,where he died two years later.Muhammad had no sons

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