What is Islamic History?

Islamic History

The history of Islam is not just a historical account of the Arab world or the world which Islam occupies it is as much a history of the world.

The beginning of Islam is attributed to the birth, life and prophethood of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, who was born c. 570 CE, 53 years before the migration of Muslims from Mecca to Madina. He attained prophethood at the age of forty and died c. 632 CE, 11 years after the migration. Yet Islam purports to be but another religion and conveyance of the same God who sent the Torah to Moses, the Psalms to David and the Gospels to Jesus. In fact, the Quran addresses Jews, and Christians, and affirms the truth of earlier scriptures. If the Torah is the Old Testament, and the Gospels the New Testament, then the Quran is the Final Testament of the same God, Allah the Exalted.

Therefore, the story of Islam is the story of the beginning of mankind; form the creation of Adam and Eve, their vicegerency of Earth, the struggles of Cane and Abel, the Great Flood of Noah, the emergence of Abraham, the enslavement of the Hebrews and their subsequent liberation at the hands of Moses, the defeat of Goliath by David, the virgin birth of Jesus and much else is all part of the narrative of Islamic history.

However, the Quran is not a storybook, nor is Islam merely an account of historical facts. Drawing lessons from the past and charting a course for the future; guiding mankind towards good whilst warding off evil, attaining salvation and the grace of God, is the continuous effort of the Islamic narrative.

Thus, a study of Islamic history is a study of what came before and after.

The history of Islam before Muhamad

Whilst Islamic history indulges in stories of the past since creation, great significance is attributed to Abraham and his sons Ishmael and Isaac. Since it was Abraham and Ishmael who built the Ka’ba and established the holy city of Mecca as a site of pilgrimage to whom all pay homage till today. The rituals of the Hajj are taken from the rites and traditions set by Hajar the wife of Abraham, Ishmael and as taught by Abraham himself. Accounts of the life of Abraham and his family were enshrined in the hearts and minds of his followers. Generation after generation, the stories were transmitted orally in forms of prose and poetry, and enshrined in writings, paintings, and archaeological artifacts. When God communicates with Muhammad, he does so through divine revelation manifesting as the Quran and divine inspiration preserved in al-Sunnah; both reaffirming the stories of the past as the truth of God.

Great historians of the past such as Muhammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310 AH) in his Tārīkh al-Ṭabarī, and Ibn Kathīr (d. 774 AH) in his al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, record volumes of accounts of historical data from creation till their respective times, citing sources from extra-scriptural accounts as well as Judeo-Christian narratives affirmed by Quran and al-Sunnah.

The history of Islam during the time of Muhammad

Probably the most well recorded portion of any history, the books of al-Sīrah and al-Tārīkh use a robust method of oral and written traditions, corroborated through peer review, to illustrate the life of Muhammad in its fullest extent. These historical accounts are divided into four sections: (1) before the birth of Muhammad; focusing on key individuals and incidents that led to the birth of Muhammad; the social, economic, and political landscapes of Arabia and its surrounding regions; corroborated by Roman and Persian accounts. (2) the birth of Muhammad till prophethood; significant repercussions of his birth were felt throughout Roman and Persian lands; the key incidents that lead to Muhammad’s reputation as al-Ṣadiq, ‘the most truthful’, and al-‘Amīn, ‘the most trustworthy’, which even his adversaries and opponents attest to. (3) the Meccan era of prophethood; the

hardship faced by Muhammad and early Muslims, of which even the Abyssinians and their Emperor were made privy to. (4) the Medinan era of prophethood; the rise of Islamic governance, defended by great military expeditions and conquests. Towards the end of this era almost all of Arabia had submitted itself to God, the religion of Islam and the tradition of Muhammad.

The history of Islam after Muhammad

Islam continued to see great prosperity for centuries.

Soon after the death of Muhammad came the era of the ‘rightly guided Caliphs’. Abu Bakr ruled for two years and a half; in which he managed the apostate wars and began the conquests of Roman and Persian lands. This was followed by a ten-year caliphate of ‘Umar under which much of the Roman and Persian lands were incorporated into the Islamic empire. The twelve years of ‘Uthman saw the Muslims enter the far reaches of North-Africa, the Anatolian peninsula and the Eastern regions reaching into the Sub-Continent. The assassination of ‘Uthman led to a fragmentation of the Caliphate under ‘Ali and ‘Mu’awiyyah, only to be united by al-Hasan.

Despite the following civil strife, the Umayyads would go onto expand the Islamic empire and incorporate the Iberian Peninsula of Spain, Portugal, and Southern France.

During the time of the ‘Abbasids, the Muslims would see great scientific development and academic progression, perpetuated by decades of education. Scholars and academics from the world over would travel to the great libraries and seminaries of Baghdad. This era saw the rise of scholastic literacy and the emergence of scientists, philosophers, engineers, and architects.

Though the Muslims suffered greatly during the 11th, 12th and13th centuries at the hands of the Crusaders, they would triumph and liberate the Holy Lands. In the 14th century the Muslims suffered at the hands of Mongol raids and saw the execution of hundreds and thousands of innocent lives. Yet the Great Seljuks and Mamluks would persevere, and this would lead to the rise of the Great Ottomans.

It was under the Ottomans that military technology, grand architecture, and scientific development improved by leaps and bounds. The Ottomans would go onto rule for 600 years, until it officially came to an end in 1924. It was during this time that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia came into existence and still serves as a custodian for the Holy cities of Mecca and Madina.

In recent years Muslims continue to see prosperity of great wealth, primarily in the Middle East due to the discovery of rich natural resources. Yet Muslims have became part of multiple global economies and continue to contribute to the religious discourse as well as academic, scientific, technological, and architectural advancements. Islam continues to be the fastest growing religion in the world and is soon to be the largest if not already.

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