Islam (part 5)

Islam From The Beginning To 1300

Date: 2002


In this chapter, we have examined the origins and meteoric development of
Islam - both the religion and the community. The great power of Muhammad's
teachings enabled the creative but fragmented Arab tribes to unify and expand
across three continents in an astoundingly brief period.

During the reigns of the first four caliphs and the century of the
Umayyad Dynasty (661-750), great strides were made in annexing new territories
and peoples. But the Umayyad Dynasty was based on a ruling hierarchy of Arabs,
and the resentment that set the Abbasid Dynasty (750-1258) on a new throne in

During the early Abbasid period Islam reached the high point of its
geographical expansion and cultural achievements, extending from Spain across
three continents to east Asia. Unparalleled prosperity evolved from a
combination of successful trade, industry, and agriculture. But the Muslims
were not able to maintain an integrated empire; despite a religious unity -
which still exists - politically the empire broke up into smaller Muslim

The Muslims were especially gifted in science, literature, and
philosophy. Muslim intellectual life was in large part the product of a genius
for synthesizing varying cultures, and the diffusion of this knowledge was a
tremendous factor in the revival of classical learning and the coming of the
Renaissance in Europe.

Ironically, while the arts and learning were beginning to thrive in the
West, Islamic civilization itself declined. Various reasons have been advanced
for this phenomenon, including the influx of semibarbarous peoples into
Islamic lands, intellectual inflexibility resulting from rigid adherence to
the Koran's sacred law, and the despotic and eventually corrupt rule of such
Muslim dynasties as the Ottomans in Turkey, who destroyed most progressive
political and economic movements.

Islam remains a powerful force in the world today. Its believers
encompass the most highly educated scholars and unscholared peasants. The
Islamic community likewise is made up of leading industrialized societies as
well as nations just emerging from colonialism. The message of faith and the
unity of communalism under Islam are powerful influences which will continue
to play a part in world politics. Islam has begun its fifteenth century as one
of the world's most influential religious and social forces. Present-day Islam
still derives great meaning from the teachings of Muhammad and the community
he and his disciples constructed. The power of the ancient message still plays
a dominant role in the modern world.

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