THE MUSLIM WORLD
RISE OF ISLAM
The word Islam is an Arabic word that means “the
act of submitting, or giving oneself over, to the will
of God.” The Islamic faith was founded by an Arab
merchant named Muhammad, who came to be
known as the prophet of Allah (God). He called
those who followed his faith Muslims, which means
“followers of Islam.”
The religion brought people from different races and
Mecca was an oasis town. It converted into a market
town and a pilgrimage center. Muslims came to
pray at the Kaaba, an ancient shrine believed to be
created by the prophet Abraham.
In 570, Muhammad was born to a widow in
Makkah. At the age of 6, after his mother died,
he went to live with an uncle. At the age of 25,
he married a rich 40-year old widow named
Khadija. They had 2 sons that died young,
and 4 daughters.
Muhammad was very successful in the
caravan business; however, he was
troubled by the drinking, gambling, and
corruption in Mecca. He started spending
much time alone in a cave outside the
city. He concluded that there was one
only one God, Allah, the same god as the
God of the Jews and the Christians.
At first, the rich people of Mecca laughed at
Muhammad, but as he kept preaching, they feel
threatened. They felt that if fewer people were
coming to Mecca to worship, they would no longer
run their business, so they started persecuting
Muhammad and his followers.
In 622, Muhammad left Mecca for Yathrib, a journey
known as the hijra. The year became the first year
of the Muslim calendar and the city of Yathrib was
rename Medina, “the city of the prophet.” The
people from Mecca attacked Medina several times
to crush the newly established Muslim community.
In 628, Muhammad signed a peace treaty with the
people of Mecca, but in 630, they broke it!
It was that year that
Muhammad and his
followers entered the city
of Mecca without
conquest was peaceful.
the idols in the Kaaba and
within two years, all the
tribes of Arabia declared
their faith in Islam and
their loyalty to
Muhammad. On June 8,
632 Muhammad died, but
the faith continued to
The Quran is the sacred text of Islam, which teaches
that God is all-powerful and compassionate. It also
states that people are responsible for their actions.
The Quran says that people should not eat pork,
drink liquor, or gamble; it also gives advice on
marriage, divorce, inheritance, and business. It is the
final authority on all matters.
The Quran describes the pillars of faith, or the five
duties all Muslims must fulfill:
- The first duty is the confession of faith (“There is no
God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.”
- The second pillar is daily prayer. Muslims have to
pray five times a day facing Mecca each time. On
Friday, they gather in houses of worship known as
- The third duty has to do with the giving of zakah, or
charity. Muslims are to give 2.5% of his/her annual
- The fourth pillar deals with fasting from sunrise to
sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.
- The fifth duty involves is the hajj, or pilgrimage to
Mecca. All Muslims who are able are expected to
visit the Kaaba at least once in their lives.
The Quran promises that all believers who fulfill their
duties will go to Paradise, which has shade, fruit
trees, beautiful gardens, cold springs, and singing
birds. Hell is a flame-filled pit where drinking water
comes from a salty well and where food is a strong-
smelling plant that causes hunger.
The Quran teaches that Islam is God’s final and
complete revelation, and that the Torah and Bible
contain partial revelation from God. To Muslims,
Jews and Christians are “People of the Book,”
spiritually superior to polytheistic idol worshippers.
The Quran is the direct, unchangeable word of God.
Because the meaning of some words reside in
Arabic, converts learn the language, which helps
unite Muslims from many regions.
Over time, Muslim scholars developed an immense
body of law interpreting the Quran and applying its
teachings to daily life. This Islamic system of law,
called the Sharia, regulates moral conduct, family
life, business practices, government, and other
aspects of a Muslim community. The Sharia
applies the Quran to all legal situations.
Before Islam, most women under the control of a
male guardian and could not inherit property.
Some unwanted daughters were killed at birth.
Islam affirmed the spiritual equality of women and
men. The Quran prohibited the killing of daughters.
The practice of veiling upper-class women and
secluding them in a separate part of the home
came from the Byzantines and Persians.
When Muhammad died in 632, his followers needed a
new leader. A group of Muslims chose a new leader
whom they called caliph, which means successor.
Under the first four caliphs, called the Rightly Guided
Caliphs, Arab armies marched from victory to victory
as they were sent to different areas (Palestine,
Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and North Africa) to carry Islam to
other peoples. They were successful because their
common faith held them together and they had
efficient fighting methods.
Muslim armies got as far as Spain, but in 732, they
were defeated at the battle of Tours. Their advanced
into Western Europe was halted. They didn’t
Muslim leaders imposed a special tax to non-Muslims,
but allowed Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians to
practice their own faiths. Many people converted
because the religion had no hierarchies and it
emphasized the equality of all believers.
The major areas of Islamic influence in Europe were
Spain and Sicily. Spain flourished as a center of
Muslim civilization. They eventually were pushed
into southern Spain, but their culture included many
great centers of learning and grand buildings, such
as the Alhambra in Granada.
In Sicily, Muslim ruled didn’t last long, but the Arabic
culture remained. Many scholars enriched the
Soon after Muhammad death, divisions arose within
The Sunni felt that the caliph, whom they saw as a
political leader, should be elected by leaders of the
Muslim community. Today, about 90 percent of
Muslims are Sunni.
The Shiites argued that the only true successors to the
Prophet were descendants of Muhammad’s
daughter and son-in-law, Ali, who was the fourth
caliph. Shiites grew to admire those who died as a
demonstration of their faith.
The Sufis were Muslim mystics who sought
communion through meditation, fasting, and other
rituals. They spread Islam through missionary work.
After the death of the fourth caliph, Ali, the Umayyad
family set up a dynasty that lasted till 750. From
that time on, the title of caliph was hereditary. They
ruled more like kings than religious leaders.
Muslims disliked the dynasty and after a while, war
broke out between the Umayyads and a group of
Muslims called Abbassids. In 750, they defeated
the old dynasty and created a new one, which
lasted until 1258. The Abbassid dynasty ended
Arab dominance and made Islam a universal
religion. The caliph al-Mansur chose Baghdad as
the new capital; poets, scholars, and philosophers
from all over the Muslim world flocked to the
Baghdad received the title of “City of Peace, Gift of
God, Paradise on Earth.” There were many gardens,
and above the streets there were domes and
minarets (slender towers of mosques), which were
used by a mosque official called a muezzin to climb
to the top of the minaret and call the faithful to
prayer. The palace of caliph echoed with the music
of flutes and tambourines, along with the voices of
The city of Baghdad reached its peak under the reign
of caliph Harun al-Rashid, who ruled from 786 to
809. He was admired as a model ruler in Europe and
the Muslim world. He was viewed as a symbol of
wealth and splendor.
Starting about 850, the Abbassid control over the
Arab empire fragmented. In the 900s, the Seljuk
Turks migrated into the Middle East from Central
Asia; they adopted Islam and built an empire along
the Fertile Crescent. The Seljuk sultan, or
authority, controlled the city, but the caliph was a
The Seljuk threatened the Byzantine empire and
started the First Crusade, which had a greater
impact on Europe than on the Muslim world.
As the 1200s drew to a close, the Arab empire had
fragmented, but Islam continued to link diverse
people across an area called the Dar al-Islam,
“Abode of Islam.”
GOLDEN AGE OF MUSLIM
SOCIETY & ECONOMY
Muslim society was more open than that of
medieval Christian Europe. People enjoyed a
certain degree of social mobility, meaning they
could move up in social class through religious,
scholarly, or military achievements.
Slavery was a common institution in the cities.
Slaves were brought from conquered lands in
Spain, Greece, Africa, and Central Asia. They
could convert to Islam. Muslims could not be
enslaved. Islamic law encouraged the freeing of
slaves. Many slaves bought their freedom, often
with the help of charitable donations.
Honored merchants built a vast trading network
across the Islamic world that spread Islam,
products, and technologies. Extensive and
successful trade led Muslims to pioneer new
ways of doing business, such as partnerships,
bought and sold on credit and formed banks to
Across the Muslim world, artisans produced a
wealth of fine goods: steel swords from
Damascus, leather goods from Cordoba, cotton
textiles from Egypt, and carpets from Persia.
ISLAMIC ART & ARCHITECTURE
Because the Quran banned the
worship of idols, artists used
abstract and geometric patterns.
The arabesque, an intricate
designed composed of curves lines
that suggest floral shapes,
appeared in rugs, textiles, and
glassware. Muslim artists perfected
skills in calligraphy.
Muslim architects adapted the domes
and arches of Byzantine buildings
to new uses. Dome of the Rock, in
Jerusalem, typifies Muslim
Arabic poetry, emphasizing chivalry and the romance
of nomadic life, came to influence medieval
European literature and music. Omar Khayyam
was a famous scholar, astronomer, and poet, best
known for The Rubaiyat, a collection of four-line
poems about fate and the fleeting nature of life.
Arab writers prized the art of storytelling. The best-
known collection of Arab tales is The Thousand
and One Nights, which include romances,
adventures, and humorous anecdotes. Later
versions were renamed “Aladdin and His Magic
Lamp” or “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”
WORLD OF LEARNING
Both boys and girls were provided elementary
education. This training emphasized reading and
writing, especially the study of the Quran. Scholars
translated Greek works and tried to harmonize them
with Muslim religious teachings. In Cordoba, the
philosopher Ibn Rushd, known as Averroes, put all
knowledge except the Quran to the test of reason.
The mathematician al-Khwarizmi pionered the study of
algebra. His algebra text became the standard
mathematics textbook in Europe.
Astronomers studied eclipses, observed the Earth’s
rotation, and calculated its circumference to within a
few thousand feet.
Muslims made remarkable advances in medicine and
public health. In comparison to medicine in Europe,
Muslim medicine was far more advanced. The
government set up hospitals, pharmacists and
physicians had to pass a test before they could
practice their profession.
Muhammad al-Razi, head physician at Baghdad’s main
hospital, wrote many books on medicine, including a
pioneering study of measles and smallpox. He advised
young doctors to treat the mind as well as the body.
The Persian physician Ibn Sina, known in Europe as
Avicenna, wrote an encyclopedia about the diagnosis
and treatment of disease.
Over time, Muslim scholars helped move knowledge
into Christian Europe through Spain and Sicily.
European physicians began attending Muslim
universities in Spain and to translate Arabic