While Mohammed was alive
Mohammed began to preach after he became sure that Allah had chosen him to tel people that there was only one god, Allah. He told people not to worship idols. He said that there was only one God. He also said that people should treat each other as brothers and equals. Many peasants and workers who were badly treated by their masters became Mohammed's followers. They were called Muslims. Mohammed fled in 622 AD as to escape from the murder of the rich people in Mecca. Muslims called this move the Hegira, which means flight. The calendar of the Muslims started with the year of the Hegira in 622.
Medina means the city of the prophet. Mohammed became the religious leader of Medina. In the next few years, there were fights and quarrels with Mecca. However, in 630, the Muslims from Medina entered Mecca and took control of it. Between 630 and 632, the Muslims began to unite the towns of Arabia. In 632, Mohammed died in Medina. The new leader of the Muslims was given the title "Caliph", which means successor. Mecca became the Holy City of the Muslims throughout the world.
After the death of Mohammed
Mohammed ruled most of Arabia before he died in 632. Soon after his death, the tribes began to break up. The Caliph sent armies to these tribes. Within two years, he brought the tribes all under his control. The Muslims believed in spreading their faith by the sword. Thus Islam is a fighting religion that conquered not only the Arab tribes, but also people beyond the borders of Arabia. Also, the Arabs could not grow food in the desert as there was no water and no fertile soil. At the same time, their population was increasing. The Arabs realized that they could obtain food and wealth if they conquered the areas to the north of Arabia. The Caliph sent soldiers north into the Byzantine Empire. He died in 634, but his successors continued the Muslim expansion.
The Omayyad Dynasty
By the year 661, the first four Caliphs built up a large empire. From 661 onwards, the Muslims were ruled by a dynasty of Caliphs from the Omayyad family. They ruled from about 661 to 750. The Omayyads moved the capital of their empire to Damascus because the Caliph was the governor of Syria. Under the Omayyads, Islam continued to spread rapidly. The Muslims created a large empire within 100 years of the death of Allah. The Arabs were brave and experienced soldiers. The Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire had both become weak by fighting each other. In most cases, the Muslims did not force the people they conquered to believe in Islam. However, the people in the Byzantine and Persian Empires also liked the Muslims idea that all people were equal before Allah.
The Abbasid Dynasty
In 750, the Abbasids came to power. In 762, they moved their capital to Bagdad (Baghdad). Bagdad became the richest city. The greatest Abbasid Caliph was Harun al-Rashid. Many legendary stories about him were written in a book called "The Arabian Nights". The reign of the Abbasids was a time of prosperity and learning. Bagdad grew into a trading centre as it was on the East-west trade route. It was also a centre of Muslim civilization. When the Omayyads were overthrown in 750, a group of people belonging to the Omayyad family escaped to Spain. They were able to gain control of part of Spain. The Omayyad Caliphs in Spain were good rulers. It was from Spain that Islam and Muslim civilization spread to other parts of Europe. During the 8th to the 13th centuries, the Muslims were very powerful in Spain. Other Muslims also controlled Spain, but they fought each other. The Christian states in Spain took this opportunity to fight against the Muslims. The Christian States grew stronger while the Muslims became weaker. By the 14th century, the Muslims lost their control over Spain. The Christians in Spain had struggled to defeat the Muslims and drive them out of Spain. This long struggle made the Spanish people determined to support the Catholic Church. When the Muslims were finally forced to leave Spain, the Catholic Church became very powerful.
The Turks and the Mongols
The Abbasids were weakened by civil war. About the year 1000, the Turks moved to the land of the Abbasids. They became Muslims. They took Bagdad in 1055. They also conquered other places. In the 13th century, a tribe of people called the Mongols became very powerful. They conquered China and moved westward to eastern Europe. They defeated the Turks and took Bagdad in 1258. This was the end of the Arab Empire.
The Ottoman Empire
The westward movement of the Mongols caused another Turkish tribe to rise up. This Turkish tribe was called the Ottomans. They soon defeated the Mongols. They became Muslims early in the 14th century. They built up an empire. By the middle of the 14th century, the Ottomans conquered the whole Byzantine Empire. In 1453, Constantinople was captured and it was renamed Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire became the world's largest empire. The Ottoman Empire began to weaken in the 17th century and was called "Sick Man of Europe". Many small nations won their independence from the Ottoman rule. The Empire finally broke up during the World War I (1914-1918).
As a result of their conquests, the Muslims came into contact with Greek science and philosophy, and with Persian history and literature. They were able to absorb knowledge in many fields. They controlled countries having many races, languages and cultures from the 7th century onwards. Traders were free to set up business. Many scholars came to live in Muslim lands. From the 10th century onwards, scholars translated the works of Chinese, Indians, Greeks and Romans. These works became the basis of Muslim learning. Besides studying these, the Muslims were able to add new ideas of their own.
Now Islam is the second largest religion. About 20 per cent of all the people in the world are Muslims. Most Muslims live in areas which were ruled by the Omayyads or the Ottomans for a long time. Now Muslim countries include Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya and other countries in Africa. They also include Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia. There are some Muslims in china, the former USSR, the USA, France and Britain.
Islam in the Middle East
Most people living in the Middle East are Muslims. However, in 1948 a small nation of Jews was set up in the region of Palestine. This country is called Israel. In ancient times, the Jews lived in Palestine. But Palestine was occupied by the Arabs for a long time before Israel was formed. Since 1948, the Arabs have been unfriendly to Israel because they want Palestine to be an Arab country. There has been fighting between Israel and the Arab countries. There was also war between Israel and Egypt. On 1979, Israel and Egypt signed an agreement to stop fighting. However, other Arab countries were unhappy about this agreement.
Islam in Egypt
Between 639 and 642, the Arabs brought Islam to Egypt. They also brought the Arabic language. Islam is now the religion of Egypt. Earlier, most Egyptians were Christians. Today, more than 90% of the people are Muslims. The capital Cairo is the centre of Islam in the country. The city has over 250 mosques.
Islam in Iran
Iran was formed from the old land of Persia. In 1979 there was a revolution and the Shah Pahlavi fled the country. The revolution was led by Ayatollah Khomeini, a Muslim religious leader. Khomeini declared the country an Islamic Republic. He and his followers, who included many religious leaders, set up a government with laws based on the teachings of Islam. Since 1980, Iran has had a Parliament and a President. But the government has little real power as religious leaders control it.
Islam in India
In the early 14th century, the Muslims controlled nearly all of India. They destroyed Hindu temples and images of Hindu gods. However, the Hindus resisted the Muslims. Therefore the Muslims made few converts in the south India. But the people in north were converted to Islam because of the long period of Muslim rule. Consequently, the people in India were divided two groups: the Muslims and the Hindus. There was conflict between them all the time. In 1947, the Indian sub-continent was divided into Pakistan (which is mostly Muslim) and India (which is mostly Hindu).
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