Islam: From Beginning to Now
- Pages: 12
- Word count: 2879
- Category: Islam
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Islam currently has 1.5 billion believers (Williams 453). This number is expected to grow further in the next half a decade because most believers are located in developing nations with higher birth rates. In addition, the Islamic Faith is quickly growing in popularity in traditionally Christian regions, especially North America and Europe. The knowledge of Islam in various world regions is slim despite the region being one of the oldest. In this regard, concurrent sections of this paper will trace Islam’s growth since its inception in the seventh century. This will be achieved by dividing the Faith’s history in three distinct time periods. The first period (632-1030) includes the earlier times that were characterized by succession wars among the first believers, especially after Prophet Mohamed’s death. The second period (1030-1918) deals with the spread of Islam from its birth place in the Arabia to other world regions such as Asia, Africa and the European continent. The section will further illustrate expansion challenges that were faced in the period. The third time frame (1918-Present) traces the aftermath of gradual expansion experienced since the faith’s founding. The section will further highlight challenges being faced by Islam currently.
As described in the introduction, the Islamic Faith was established in the seventh century by Prophet Mohammad, who was 40 years old at the time. As the first Muslim, Mohammad was tasked with the responsibility of teaching rest of colleagues about the new Faith. His teachings (later reffed to as Teachings of Prophet Mohamed) were instrumental in garnering followers in Mecca. Mohammad was to later move to Medina after achieving greater success in Mecca. This resulted to gradual expansion of Islamic believers in the region. Finally, the entire Arabian subcontinent became Islamic. Mohammad had in this regard succeeded in uniting all Arabian people under one Islamic religion, which became a strong bond that held the people together (Cyril 654). This Faith is still serving that role to date.
Prophet Mohammad death in 632 AD resulted and thus begun a long succession disagreement that resulted to split of the Faith into Sunnis and Shi’a factions (Richard et al 89). This resulted to confrontations between the two groups on who was supposed to be the true successor of prophet Mohammad. Given that each group had own favorite to become the faith leader, the believers started ousting leader after leader. Most were the cases that the faith leader supported by one function got killed and the position filled immediately. The were also major disagreements in individual groups regarding leadership choices. These These disagreements were constantly leading to functionary wars in the Arabian region.
Upon Prophet Mohamed’s death, Abu Bakr was immediately nominated by faith leaders, led by Umar ibn al-Khattab, to the position of Islamic faith leader (Williams 235). However, that decision was not accepted by a sizable function of believers. This latter emphasized that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Mohamed’s cousin and brother in law, was the most suitable to take over leadership. However, Bakr had already started his reign. The resulting rivalry led to Bakr’s assassination in 634 AD, only two years after assuming leadership. Bakr was succeeded by Umar who had led his appointment. The group that had been opposed to Bakr’s appointment was not thrilled the new replacement and therefore continued with their push to have Ali be anointed the overall Islamic faith’s leader. Further replacement of Ali by Umar worsened the already delicate situation. In fact, the group that had been opposed to Bakr’s appointment increased their pressure to have Umar get replaced by Ali. In 644 Umar was ousted by a group that anointed Uthman ibn al-Affan. Twelve years later (656), Uthman was assassinated and replaced by Ali ibn Abi Talib who had been termed as the rightful Mohammad successor in 632. It therefore took 24 years of unending succession wars for Ali ibn Abi Talib to occupy the leadership position.
Ali ibn Abi Talib was however assassinated by Kharijites in 661, after only five years in leadership. The end of Ali’s reigned opened the way to Umayyad that was replaced by Abbasid dynasty in 750 (Jones 301). The succession wars still continued. On one had was existing leadership that embarked on legitimizing their presence in power. The other hand constituted believers who felt that rightful individuals had been denied their right. Matters were slowly getting out of control because the wars were getting worse. Indeed, the wars ceased to be about leading the faith but about regional influence. On seeing the worsening leadership crisis, believers embarked on retracing the lost steps, which was done through the development of schism (Turner 300). Due to the continued conflict over leadership, a majority of Muslims believed that the three leaders (Bakr, Umar and Uthman) before Ali were, indeed, the only legitimate Mohammad successors (Lagasse 485). This is the group currently reffed to as Sunnis. Another group, which formed the minority believed that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Prophet Mohammed’s cousin and brother in law was the rightful successor. This group is currently referred to as Shi’a (Jones 157).
Abbasid dynasty tried to concentrate power with little success. Indeed, various Islamic region started claiming autonomy, which resulted to completely independent regions in Persia, North Africa, and Central Asia (Cyril 96). Abbasid dynasty was therefore loosing influence in all these regions. The hunger for influence was leading to greater confrontation between the now independent regions and the dynasty. This led to continued wars, as the dynasty tried to extend its claim over the entire Islamic communities. The independent regions were, however ready to defend their existence. Populations in these regions were not ready to be under autocratic dynasties that made life so unbearable.
Albbasid dynasty gradually lost its power and was therefore overrun by Seljuq Turks in early 11th century (Richard et al 423). The resulting calm aided in rapid expansion of Islam and its cultural values. People were able to move from one region to the other with ease that before. Indeed, it was in this period that trade networks between various independent regions got established. At this time, other world regions not spread to new areas, meaning that Islam would have lesser competition on that front. In this regard, many more people were converting from traditional religions to Islam. This is how Islam got spread to North Africa and the Mediterranean regions.
Further, the accruing pace provided an environment for Islamic thinkers to embark on developing important legal, religious, and philosophical ideas that have been guiding the faith (Ruthven 320). Previous dynasties had clamped on thinkers’ liberty to participate in such activities. The newly won intellectual liberties were important in developing arguments between the two groups of Islam, Sunnis and Shi’a, which could not have happened in the reign of autocratic dynasties. Through the above developments, thinkers were able to influence change in Islamic groups. For instance, Sufism eventually became a mainstream movement in Islamic world. This was achieved through the shift from ascetic roots towards mysticism. On its part, Shi’ism started splitting because of various disagreements on Imam successions.
The rapid expansion of Islam in this period was not taken lightly by some Christian quarters that were jealous of the success achieved by the faith. As mentioned earlier, Islam had been the first major global religion to spread in many areas. Christianity was at this time concentrated in European continent. It was not unique for Christian missionaries to embark on spreading the faith to other parts of the world only to find that Islam was already well established. Fact that the Islamic faith was making inroads in European continent before Christianity got introduced to the Islamic regions was also a painful point some Christians. This scenario led to some Christians seen Islam as and adversary that had to be countered at all costs. Islams were, however, ready to defend their faith and the new converts from the Christians.
In the 11th century the European Christian kingdoms started crusade wars against Islamic expansion with two main goals (Williams 200). First, the Christians wanted to bring Islam’s western expansion to a complete stop. This was to deny Islam of the much important sympathizers that could have pleaded Islamic case to the leaders. The support for this move was high in the western world, considering that Islam had of yet not succeeded in getting sizable amount of following. Secondly, the crusades were directed at introducing Christianity in the Muslim world. This was drastic move from the way Islam had been spread in most world regions, including Europe. Indeed, as mentioned earlier on this section, Islam got mainly spread through trading routes. This peaceful route was taking longer but had long lasting positive effects whose results can still be seen today. However, Christian kingdoms in Europe were interested in getting quick results, which explains the reliance on violent means. Crusade wars in the Islamic strongholds was meant to shake the faiths foundations, so as to put breaks on Islam’s rapid expansion in the west and other world regions.
The attempts by Christian kingdoms to put a break in the spread of Islam was not completely successful. Though a rapid expansion in Europe was somehow affected, it was not possible for Christians to halt the adoption of Islam in other parts of the word, especially Asia and Africa. The competition between Christianity and Islam was increasingly won by the later. According to Lagasse (630) Islam was winning over more individuals because it was easy to incorporate be with local ones. This interconnection between the local tradition and Islamic faith resulted to rapid adoptions of the faith in Africa and Asia. Christian teachings were, on the other, hand requiring people to disown their local traditions and customs for the Christian way of life. Clearly, not many people were ready to undertake that process. Indeed, not until European colonization of various world regions that missionaries were able to win converts. The contrast between both religions’ spread leads to conclusion that Islam’s one had been peaceful (mostly done through trade networks) whereas the Christian one was to an extent violent (achieved through crusades and colonization).
Islamic dynasties were also trying to dominate each other. The most dominant dominant Islamic dynasty was the Turkish Ottoman empire. The Ottomans had overrun other dynasties, including Abbassid one, to become de facto rulers in Islamic world (Cyril 96). The empire’s strengths was, however, shaken during the Christian crusades. In understanding that Ottoman power over the Islamic world, various European kingdoms directed their efforts in dismantling the empire. Ottomans were finally in their Russo-Turkish war that lasted between 1877-1878. The collapse of Islamic region’s most strong empire resulted to fragmentation of the region into many autonomous small dynasties that were to become nation states in the twentieth century.
The fragmentation of the Ottoman and other Islamic empires made it easy for the European powers to occupy and make them spheres of influence (Richard et al 968). The Europeans economic and military power were used in help Christianity spread in these regions. Christian missionaries were therefore provided with security as they performed their work. Though European occupiers did not restrict practicing Islam in these regions, they had a negative impact in relation to spreading of the faith. Indeed, the occupation and subsequent end of empires resulted to decline in the speed of spreading the faith. On the other hand, Christian missionaries were being accorded lots of support by their governments, European kingdoms and colonial authorities. All this resulted to rapid increase in the speed of spreading Christianity around the globe, whereas Islam suffered a major setback.
The inability to spread Islam in many parts of the world in 20th century resulted to earlier converts in taking that responsibility. For instance, earlier converts in Asian and African continents, which increasingly became Christian, were tasked with responsibility of taking over. Lack of resource support led to slow adoption of Islam. The competing Christian missionaries had more resources, which resulted to their rapid expansion. Unfortunately local Islamic preachers that tried to expand the faith were subject to colonialism.
The end of European colonialism in mid 20th century resulted to the formerly occupied Islamic regions becoming independent countries. Fact that these individual nations have their own issues to counter means that the Islamic would has completely done away with the old rivalry of succession. However, sovereign identities do not mean that Islamic worlds now lacks issues to hold them together. First, the Islamic faith and teachings still play a central role in strengthening the bonds developed by Prophet Mohamed fourteen centuries ago. Secondly, the Arabian region has since mid 20th century played an important role as the primary source of global energy supplies in form of oil. Third, the establishment of the State of Israel in the Arab world has further become issue bringing the Arab world and all Muslims together. The three issues have indeed become important bonds holding Muslims together.
The twentieth century further saw development of several movements related to the Islamic faith. Among these movements include “revivalists” that advocate for a more theocratic and totalistic approach to Islam’s political ideologies (Jones 36). Secondly, “revivalists” see the western cultural values as bad for moral living and should therefore be prevented in the Islamic nations, and other countries when possible. According to this group, the west’s occupations of the Arab should ended forthwith. examples of “revivalist” movements include Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The groups criticize both local and foreign governments in colluding to corrupt morals around the world and especially Muslim dominant countries.
Another movement is liberal Islam is another movements that has roots in the twentieth century. According to Tummer (109) the movement intends to harmonize traditions with todays concepts of human rights and secular leadership. The goals is to thus make the religion be compatible with modern practices. In this regard, the movement intends to help create sensitivity in a religions long seen as less tolerant. Followers of this groups are, however, accused by “revivalists” for compromising on the faith’s teachings by trying to bring their own interpretations. The big gap between the two groups stand has made it hard for them to reach any compromise.
The Islamic faith has in the past century been receiving serious pressure and accusations from western critics. For instance, Islam is accused of being less tolerant to criticism from all sides, be it from Muslims or Non-Muslims. The faith also stands accused of being too harsh on people who leave Islam. Another major complaint from outsiders is that faith leaders have done little to control Islamic fundamentalism. More harsh critics have gone top an extent that some Islamic leaders are actually on the forefront of this fundamentalism. This has especially risen from the failure of critics to distinguish the distinguish the teachings of Islamic faith from the what the interpretation put forward by the fundamentalists. The result has been heightened Islamophobia in the west (Williams 1224). The attempt by Islamic leaders to defend the country seem to be falling on deaf ears since little change in west’s understanding of the faith can be pointed.
The Islamic faith has thus undergone through tough times since its founding in the seventh century. Prophet Mohamed’s teachings were immediately successful in garnering followers in Mecca, then Medina, entire Arab region, and eventually to many regions around the world. However, the faith was to face serious challenges when the Prophet died in 632 AD. The faith did not have a clear succession plan and was therefore plunged into long wars. The appointment of one follower (Bakr) as Prophet Mohamed’s was not well received by a certain group. The resulting succession wars led to deaths of several anointed faith leaders. Islam believers were eventually fed up with the succession wars, but not without challenges.
One group (Sunnis) recognized only three successive leaders as the true Mohamed successors. Another group (Shi’a) believed that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Prophet Mohammed’s cousin and brother in law, as the rightful successor. The next phase of expansion was facilitated by the empires in the region. The beginning of empires had been been bloody as they tried to overthrow each other. An eventual peace helped in the spread of Islam in various world regions through trade networks. The rapid expansion was, however, stopped by Christian crusaders that saw Islam as threat. These crusades eventually got European kingdom’s support, which resulted to complete collapse of Islamic empires as well as reducing the spread of Islam. The twenty first century saw Islamic empires split into independent countries with different interests.
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