NCERT Textbook - The Central Islamic Lands Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

History Class 11

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Humanities/Arts : NCERT Textbook - The Central Islamic Lands Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

 Page 1


77
The Central Islamic
Lands
AS we enter the twenty-first century, there are over 1 billion
Muslims living in all parts of the world. They are citizens
of different nations, speak different languages, and dress
differently. The processes by which they became Muslims
were varied, and so were the circumstances in which they
went their separate ways. Yet, the Islamic community has its
roots in a more unified past which unfolded roughly 1,400
years ago in the Arabian peninsula. In this chapter we are
going to read about the rise of Islam and its expansion over a
vast territory extending from Egypt to Afghanistan, the core
area of Islamic civilisation from 600 to 1200. In these
centuries, Islamic society exhibited multiple political and
cultural patterns. The term Islamic is used here not only in
its purely religious sense but also for the overall society and
culture historically associated with Islam. In this society not
everything that was happening originated directly from
religion, but it took place in a society where Muslims and
their faith were recognised as socially dominant. Non-Muslims
always formed an integral, if subordinate, part of this society
as did Jews in Christendom.
Our understanding of the history of the central Islamic lands
between 600 and 1200 is based on chronicles or tawarikh
(which narrate events in order of time) and semi-historical
works, such as biographies (sira), records of the sayings and
doings of the Prophet (hadith) and commentaries on the
Quran (tafsir). The material from which these works were
produced was a large collection of eyewitness reports (akhbar)
transmitted over a period of time either orally or on paper.
The authenticity of each report (khabar) was tested by a
critical method which traced the chain of transmission (isnad)
and established the reliability of the narrator. Although the
method was not foolproof, medieval Muslim writers were more
careful in selecting their information and understanding the
motives of their informants than were their contemporaries
in other parts of the world. On controversial issues, they
reproduced different versions of the same event, as they found
in their sources, leaving the task of judgement to their
readers. Their description of events closer to their own times
is more systematic and analytical and less of a collection of
akhbar. Most of the chronicles and semi-historical works are
THEME
4
2019-2020
Page 2


77
The Central Islamic
Lands
AS we enter the twenty-first century, there are over 1 billion
Muslims living in all parts of the world. They are citizens
of different nations, speak different languages, and dress
differently. The processes by which they became Muslims
were varied, and so were the circumstances in which they
went their separate ways. Yet, the Islamic community has its
roots in a more unified past which unfolded roughly 1,400
years ago in the Arabian peninsula. In this chapter we are
going to read about the rise of Islam and its expansion over a
vast territory extending from Egypt to Afghanistan, the core
area of Islamic civilisation from 600 to 1200. In these
centuries, Islamic society exhibited multiple political and
cultural patterns. The term Islamic is used here not only in
its purely religious sense but also for the overall society and
culture historically associated with Islam. In this society not
everything that was happening originated directly from
religion, but it took place in a society where Muslims and
their faith were recognised as socially dominant. Non-Muslims
always formed an integral, if subordinate, part of this society
as did Jews in Christendom.
Our understanding of the history of the central Islamic lands
between 600 and 1200 is based on chronicles or tawarikh
(which narrate events in order of time) and semi-historical
works, such as biographies (sira), records of the sayings and
doings of the Prophet (hadith) and commentaries on the
Quran (tafsir). The material from which these works were
produced was a large collection of eyewitness reports (akhbar)
transmitted over a period of time either orally or on paper.
The authenticity of each report (khabar) was tested by a
critical method which traced the chain of transmission (isnad)
and established the reliability of the narrator. Although the
method was not foolproof, medieval Muslim writers were more
careful in selecting their information and understanding the
motives of their informants than were their contemporaries
in other parts of the world. On controversial issues, they
reproduced different versions of the same event, as they found
in their sources, leaving the task of judgement to their
readers. Their description of events closer to their own times
is more systematic and analytical and less of a collection of
akhbar. Most of the chronicles and semi-historical works are
THEME
4
2019-2020
78 THEMES IN WORLD HISTORY
in Arabic, the best being the Tarikh of Tabari (d. 923) which
has been translated into English in 38 volumes. Persian
chronicles are few but they are quite detailed in their treatment
of Iran and Central Asia. Christian chronicles, written in
Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic*), are fewer but they throw
interesting light on the history of early Islam. Besides
chronicles, we have legal texts, geographies, travelogues and
literary works, such as stories and poems.
Documentary evidence (fragmentary pieces of writing,
such as official orders or private correspondence) is the
most valuable for writing histories because it does not
consciously refer to events and persons. It comes almost
entirely from Greek and Arabic papyri (good for
administrative history) and the Geniza records. Some
evidence has emerged from archaeological (excavations
done at desert palaces), numismatic (study of coins) and
epigraphic (study of inscriptions) sources which is of great
value for economic history, art history, and for establishing
names and dates.
Proper histories of Islam began to be written in the
nineteenth century by university professors in Germany and
the Netherlands. Colonial interests in the Middle East and
North Africa encouraged French and British researchers to
study Islam as well. Christian priests too paid close attention
to the history of Islam and produced some good work,
although their interest was mainly to compare Islam with
Christianity. These scholars, called Orientalists, are known
for their knowledge of Arabic and Persian and critical
analysis of original texts. Ignaz Goldziher was a Hungarian
Jew who studied at the Islamic college (al-Azhar) in Cairo
and produced path-breaking studies in German of Islamic
law and theology. Twentieth-century historians of Islam have
largely followed the interests and methods of Orientalists.
They have widened the scope of Islamic history by including
new topics, and by using allied disciplines, such as
economics, anthropology and statistics, have refined many
aspects of Orientalist studies. The historiography of Islam
is a good example of how religion can be studied with
modern historical methods by those who may not share the
customs and beliefs of the people they are studying.
The Rise of Islam in Arabia:
Faith, Community and Politics
During 612-32, the Prophet Muhammad preached the worship of a
single God, Allah, and the membership of a single community of believers
(umma). This was the origin of Islam. Muhammad was an Arab by
language and culture and a merchant by profession. Sixth-century
Arab culture was largely confined to the Arabian peninsula and areas
of southern Syria and Mesopotamia.
*Aramaic is a
language related to
Hebrew and Arabic.
It has also been
used in Ashokan
inscriptions.
2019-2020
Page 3


77
The Central Islamic
Lands
AS we enter the twenty-first century, there are over 1 billion
Muslims living in all parts of the world. They are citizens
of different nations, speak different languages, and dress
differently. The processes by which they became Muslims
were varied, and so were the circumstances in which they
went their separate ways. Yet, the Islamic community has its
roots in a more unified past which unfolded roughly 1,400
years ago in the Arabian peninsula. In this chapter we are
going to read about the rise of Islam and its expansion over a
vast territory extending from Egypt to Afghanistan, the core
area of Islamic civilisation from 600 to 1200. In these
centuries, Islamic society exhibited multiple political and
cultural patterns. The term Islamic is used here not only in
its purely religious sense but also for the overall society and
culture historically associated with Islam. In this society not
everything that was happening originated directly from
religion, but it took place in a society where Muslims and
their faith were recognised as socially dominant. Non-Muslims
always formed an integral, if subordinate, part of this society
as did Jews in Christendom.
Our understanding of the history of the central Islamic lands
between 600 and 1200 is based on chronicles or tawarikh
(which narrate events in order of time) and semi-historical
works, such as biographies (sira), records of the sayings and
doings of the Prophet (hadith) and commentaries on the
Quran (tafsir). The material from which these works were
produced was a large collection of eyewitness reports (akhbar)
transmitted over a period of time either orally or on paper.
The authenticity of each report (khabar) was tested by a
critical method which traced the chain of transmission (isnad)
and established the reliability of the narrator. Although the
method was not foolproof, medieval Muslim writers were more
careful in selecting their information and understanding the
motives of their informants than were their contemporaries
in other parts of the world. On controversial issues, they
reproduced different versions of the same event, as they found
in their sources, leaving the task of judgement to their
readers. Their description of events closer to their own times
is more systematic and analytical and less of a collection of
akhbar. Most of the chronicles and semi-historical works are
THEME
4
2019-2020
78 THEMES IN WORLD HISTORY
in Arabic, the best being the Tarikh of Tabari (d. 923) which
has been translated into English in 38 volumes. Persian
chronicles are few but they are quite detailed in their treatment
of Iran and Central Asia. Christian chronicles, written in
Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic*), are fewer but they throw
interesting light on the history of early Islam. Besides
chronicles, we have legal texts, geographies, travelogues and
literary works, such as stories and poems.
Documentary evidence (fragmentary pieces of writing,
such as official orders or private correspondence) is the
most valuable for writing histories because it does not
consciously refer to events and persons. It comes almost
entirely from Greek and Arabic papyri (good for
administrative history) and the Geniza records. Some
evidence has emerged from archaeological (excavations
done at desert palaces), numismatic (study of coins) and
epigraphic (study of inscriptions) sources which is of great
value for economic history, art history, and for establishing
names and dates.
Proper histories of Islam began to be written in the
nineteenth century by university professors in Germany and
the Netherlands. Colonial interests in the Middle East and
North Africa encouraged French and British researchers to
study Islam as well. Christian priests too paid close attention
to the history of Islam and produced some good work,
although their interest was mainly to compare Islam with
Christianity. These scholars, called Orientalists, are known
for their knowledge of Arabic and Persian and critical
analysis of original texts. Ignaz Goldziher was a Hungarian
Jew who studied at the Islamic college (al-Azhar) in Cairo
and produced path-breaking studies in German of Islamic
law and theology. Twentieth-century historians of Islam have
largely followed the interests and methods of Orientalists.
They have widened the scope of Islamic history by including
new topics, and by using allied disciplines, such as
economics, anthropology and statistics, have refined many
aspects of Orientalist studies. The historiography of Islam
is a good example of how religion can be studied with
modern historical methods by those who may not share the
customs and beliefs of the people they are studying.
The Rise of Islam in Arabia:
Faith, Community and Politics
During 612-32, the Prophet Muhammad preached the worship of a
single God, Allah, and the membership of a single community of believers
(umma). This was the origin of Islam. Muhammad was an Arab by
language and culture and a merchant by profession. Sixth-century
Arab culture was largely confined to the Arabian peninsula and areas
of southern Syria and Mesopotamia.
*Aramaic is a
language related to
Hebrew and Arabic.
It has also been
used in Ashokan
inscriptions.
2019-2020
79
The Arabs were divided into tribes* (qabila), each led by a chief who
was chosen partly on the basis of his family connections but more for
his personal courage, wisdom and generosity (murawwa). Each tribe
had its own god or goddess, who was worshipped as an idol (sanam) in
a shrine. Many Arab tribes were nomadic (Bedouins), moving from dry
to green areas (oases) of the desert in search of food (mainly dates) and
fodder for their camels. Some settled in cities and practised trade or
agriculture. Muhammad’s own tribe, Quraysh, lived in Mecca and
controlled the main shrine there, a cube-like structure called Kaba, in
which idols were placed. Even tribes outside Mecca considered the
Kaba holy and installed their own idols at this shrine, making annual
pilgrimages (hajj) to the shrine. Mecca was located on the crossroads
of a trade route between Yemen and Syria which further enhanced the
city’s importance (see Map p. 82). The Meccan shrine was a sanctuary
(haram) where violence was forbidden and protection given to all visitors.
Pilgrimage and commerce gave the nomadic and settled tribes
opportunities to communicate with one another and share their beliefs
and customs. Although the polytheistic Arabs were vaguely familiar
with the notion of a Supreme God, Allah (possibly under the influence
of the Jewish and Christian tribes living in their midst), their attachment
to idols and shrines was more immediate and stronger.
Around 612, Muhammad declared himself to be the messenger
(rasul) of God who had been commanded to preach that Allah alone
should be worshipped. The worship involved simple rituals, such as
daily prayers (salat), and moral principles, such as distributing
alms and abstaining from theft. Muhammad was to found a
community of believers (umma) bound by a common set of religious
beliefs. The community would bear witness (shahada) to the existence
of the religion before God as well as before members of other religious
communities. Muhammad’s message particularly appealed to those
Meccans who felt deprived of the gains from trade and religion and
were looking for a new community identity. Those who
accepted the doctrine were called Muslims. They
were promised salvation on the Day of Judgement
(qiyama) and a share of the resources of the
community while on earth. The Muslims soon
faced considerable opposition from affluent
Meccans who took offence to the rejection of
their deities and found the new religion a
threat to the status and prosperity of Mecca.
In 622, Muhammad was forced
to migrate with his followers to Medina.
Muhammad’s journey from Mecca (hijra) was
a turning point in the history of
Islam, with the year of his arrival in
Medina marking the beginning of the
Muslim calendar.
*Tribes are societies
organised on the basis
of blood relationships.
The Arab tribes were
made up of clans or
combinations of large
families. Unrelated
clans also merged to
make a tribe stronger.
Non-Arab individuals
(mawali) became
members through the
patronage of prominent
tribesmen. Even after
converting to Islam, the
mawali were never
treated as equals by
the Arab Muslims and
had to pray in separate
mosques.
THE CENTRAL ISLAMIC LANDS
A thirteenth century
painting from ‘Ajaibul
Makhluqat’ depicting
the artist’s imagination
of the Archangel Gabriel
(Jibril) who brought
messages to
Muhammad. The first
word he spoke was
‘recite’ (iqra) from
which has come the
word Quran. In Islamic
cosmology, angels are
one of the three
intelligent forms of life
in the Universe. The
other two are humans
and jinns.
2019-2020
Page 4


77
The Central Islamic
Lands
AS we enter the twenty-first century, there are over 1 billion
Muslims living in all parts of the world. They are citizens
of different nations, speak different languages, and dress
differently. The processes by which they became Muslims
were varied, and so were the circumstances in which they
went their separate ways. Yet, the Islamic community has its
roots in a more unified past which unfolded roughly 1,400
years ago in the Arabian peninsula. In this chapter we are
going to read about the rise of Islam and its expansion over a
vast territory extending from Egypt to Afghanistan, the core
area of Islamic civilisation from 600 to 1200. In these
centuries, Islamic society exhibited multiple political and
cultural patterns. The term Islamic is used here not only in
its purely religious sense but also for the overall society and
culture historically associated with Islam. In this society not
everything that was happening originated directly from
religion, but it took place in a society where Muslims and
their faith were recognised as socially dominant. Non-Muslims
always formed an integral, if subordinate, part of this society
as did Jews in Christendom.
Our understanding of the history of the central Islamic lands
between 600 and 1200 is based on chronicles or tawarikh
(which narrate events in order of time) and semi-historical
works, such as biographies (sira), records of the sayings and
doings of the Prophet (hadith) and commentaries on the
Quran (tafsir). The material from which these works were
produced was a large collection of eyewitness reports (akhbar)
transmitted over a period of time either orally or on paper.
The authenticity of each report (khabar) was tested by a
critical method which traced the chain of transmission (isnad)
and established the reliability of the narrator. Although the
method was not foolproof, medieval Muslim writers were more
careful in selecting their information and understanding the
motives of their informants than were their contemporaries
in other parts of the world. On controversial issues, they
reproduced different versions of the same event, as they found
in their sources, leaving the task of judgement to their
readers. Their description of events closer to their own times
is more systematic and analytical and less of a collection of
akhbar. Most of the chronicles and semi-historical works are
THEME
4
2019-2020
78 THEMES IN WORLD HISTORY
in Arabic, the best being the Tarikh of Tabari (d. 923) which
has been translated into English in 38 volumes. Persian
chronicles are few but they are quite detailed in their treatment
of Iran and Central Asia. Christian chronicles, written in
Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic*), are fewer but they throw
interesting light on the history of early Islam. Besides
chronicles, we have legal texts, geographies, travelogues and
literary works, such as stories and poems.
Documentary evidence (fragmentary pieces of writing,
such as official orders or private correspondence) is the
most valuable for writing histories because it does not
consciously refer to events and persons. It comes almost
entirely from Greek and Arabic papyri (good for
administrative history) and the Geniza records. Some
evidence has emerged from archaeological (excavations
done at desert palaces), numismatic (study of coins) and
epigraphic (study of inscriptions) sources which is of great
value for economic history, art history, and for establishing
names and dates.
Proper histories of Islam began to be written in the
nineteenth century by university professors in Germany and
the Netherlands. Colonial interests in the Middle East and
North Africa encouraged French and British researchers to
study Islam as well. Christian priests too paid close attention
to the history of Islam and produced some good work,
although their interest was mainly to compare Islam with
Christianity. These scholars, called Orientalists, are known
for their knowledge of Arabic and Persian and critical
analysis of original texts. Ignaz Goldziher was a Hungarian
Jew who studied at the Islamic college (al-Azhar) in Cairo
and produced path-breaking studies in German of Islamic
law and theology. Twentieth-century historians of Islam have
largely followed the interests and methods of Orientalists.
They have widened the scope of Islamic history by including
new topics, and by using allied disciplines, such as
economics, anthropology and statistics, have refined many
aspects of Orientalist studies. The historiography of Islam
is a good example of how religion can be studied with
modern historical methods by those who may not share the
customs and beliefs of the people they are studying.
The Rise of Islam in Arabia:
Faith, Community and Politics
During 612-32, the Prophet Muhammad preached the worship of a
single God, Allah, and the membership of a single community of believers
(umma). This was the origin of Islam. Muhammad was an Arab by
language and culture and a merchant by profession. Sixth-century
Arab culture was largely confined to the Arabian peninsula and areas
of southern Syria and Mesopotamia.
*Aramaic is a
language related to
Hebrew and Arabic.
It has also been
used in Ashokan
inscriptions.
2019-2020
79
The Arabs were divided into tribes* (qabila), each led by a chief who
was chosen partly on the basis of his family connections but more for
his personal courage, wisdom and generosity (murawwa). Each tribe
had its own god or goddess, who was worshipped as an idol (sanam) in
a shrine. Many Arab tribes were nomadic (Bedouins), moving from dry
to green areas (oases) of the desert in search of food (mainly dates) and
fodder for their camels. Some settled in cities and practised trade or
agriculture. Muhammad’s own tribe, Quraysh, lived in Mecca and
controlled the main shrine there, a cube-like structure called Kaba, in
which idols were placed. Even tribes outside Mecca considered the
Kaba holy and installed their own idols at this shrine, making annual
pilgrimages (hajj) to the shrine. Mecca was located on the crossroads
of a trade route between Yemen and Syria which further enhanced the
city’s importance (see Map p. 82). The Meccan shrine was a sanctuary
(haram) where violence was forbidden and protection given to all visitors.
Pilgrimage and commerce gave the nomadic and settled tribes
opportunities to communicate with one another and share their beliefs
and customs. Although the polytheistic Arabs were vaguely familiar
with the notion of a Supreme God, Allah (possibly under the influence
of the Jewish and Christian tribes living in their midst), their attachment
to idols and shrines was more immediate and stronger.
Around 612, Muhammad declared himself to be the messenger
(rasul) of God who had been commanded to preach that Allah alone
should be worshipped. The worship involved simple rituals, such as
daily prayers (salat), and moral principles, such as distributing
alms and abstaining from theft. Muhammad was to found a
community of believers (umma) bound by a common set of religious
beliefs. The community would bear witness (shahada) to the existence
of the religion before God as well as before members of other religious
communities. Muhammad’s message particularly appealed to those
Meccans who felt deprived of the gains from trade and religion and
were looking for a new community identity. Those who
accepted the doctrine were called Muslims. They
were promised salvation on the Day of Judgement
(qiyama) and a share of the resources of the
community while on earth. The Muslims soon
faced considerable opposition from affluent
Meccans who took offence to the rejection of
their deities and found the new religion a
threat to the status and prosperity of Mecca.
In 622, Muhammad was forced
to migrate with his followers to Medina.
Muhammad’s journey from Mecca (hijra) was
a turning point in the history of
Islam, with the year of his arrival in
Medina marking the beginning of the
Muslim calendar.
*Tribes are societies
organised on the basis
of blood relationships.
The Arab tribes were
made up of clans or
combinations of large
families. Unrelated
clans also merged to
make a tribe stronger.
Non-Arab individuals
(mawali) became
members through the
patronage of prominent
tribesmen. Even after
converting to Islam, the
mawali were never
treated as equals by
the Arab Muslims and
had to pray in separate
mosques.
THE CENTRAL ISLAMIC LANDS
A thirteenth century
painting from ‘Ajaibul
Makhluqat’ depicting
the artist’s imagination
of the Archangel Gabriel
(Jibril) who brought
messages to
Muhammad. The first
word he spoke was
‘recite’ (iqra) from
which has come the
word Quran. In Islamic
cosmology, angels are
one of the three
intelligent forms of life
in the Universe. The
other two are humans
and jinns.
2019-2020
80 THEMES IN WORLD HISTORY
Islamic Calendar
The Hijri era was established during the caliphate of Umar, with the first year
falling in 622 CE. A date in the Hijri calendar is followed by the letters AH.
The Hijri year is a lunar year of 354 days, 12 months (Muharram to Dhul
Hijja) of 29 or 30 days. Each day begins at sunset and each month with the
sighting of the crescent moon. The Hijri year is about 11 days shorter than the
solar year. Therefore, none of the Islamic religious festivals, including the
Ramazan fast, Id and hajj, corresponds in any way to seasons. There is no easy
way to match the dates in the Hijri calendar with the dates in the Gregorian
calendar (established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 CE). One can calculate the
rough equivalents between the Islamic (H) and Gregorian Christian (C) years
with the following formulae:
(H × 32 / 33) + 622 = C
(C – 622) × 33 / 32 = H
The survival of a religion rests on the
survival of the community of believers. The
community has to be consolidated internally
and protected from external dangers.
Consolidation and protection require
political institutions such as states and
governments which are either inherited from
the past, borrowed from outside or created
from scratch. In Medina, Muhammad
created a political order from all three
sources which gave his followers the
protection they needed as well as resolved
the city’s ongoing civil strife. The umma was
converted into a wider community to include
polytheists and the Jews of Medina under
the political leadership of Muhammad.
Muhammad consolidated the faith for his
followers by adding and refining rituals
(such as fasting) and ethical principles. The
community survived on agriculture and
trade, as well as an alms tax (zakat). In
addition, the Muslims organised
expeditionary raids  on Meccan caravans
and nearby oases. These raids provoked
reactions from the Meccans and caused a
breach with the Jews of Medina. After
Pilgrims at the Kaba, illustration from a fifteenth-
century Persian manuscript.
2019-2020
Page 5


77
The Central Islamic
Lands
AS we enter the twenty-first century, there are over 1 billion
Muslims living in all parts of the world. They are citizens
of different nations, speak different languages, and dress
differently. The processes by which they became Muslims
were varied, and so were the circumstances in which they
went their separate ways. Yet, the Islamic community has its
roots in a more unified past which unfolded roughly 1,400
years ago in the Arabian peninsula. In this chapter we are
going to read about the rise of Islam and its expansion over a
vast territory extending from Egypt to Afghanistan, the core
area of Islamic civilisation from 600 to 1200. In these
centuries, Islamic society exhibited multiple political and
cultural patterns. The term Islamic is used here not only in
its purely religious sense but also for the overall society and
culture historically associated with Islam. In this society not
everything that was happening originated directly from
religion, but it took place in a society where Muslims and
their faith were recognised as socially dominant. Non-Muslims
always formed an integral, if subordinate, part of this society
as did Jews in Christendom.
Our understanding of the history of the central Islamic lands
between 600 and 1200 is based on chronicles or tawarikh
(which narrate events in order of time) and semi-historical
works, such as biographies (sira), records of the sayings and
doings of the Prophet (hadith) and commentaries on the
Quran (tafsir). The material from which these works were
produced was a large collection of eyewitness reports (akhbar)
transmitted over a period of time either orally or on paper.
The authenticity of each report (khabar) was tested by a
critical method which traced the chain of transmission (isnad)
and established the reliability of the narrator. Although the
method was not foolproof, medieval Muslim writers were more
careful in selecting their information and understanding the
motives of their informants than were their contemporaries
in other parts of the world. On controversial issues, they
reproduced different versions of the same event, as they found
in their sources, leaving the task of judgement to their
readers. Their description of events closer to their own times
is more systematic and analytical and less of a collection of
akhbar. Most of the chronicles and semi-historical works are
THEME
4
2019-2020
78 THEMES IN WORLD HISTORY
in Arabic, the best being the Tarikh of Tabari (d. 923) which
has been translated into English in 38 volumes. Persian
chronicles are few but they are quite detailed in their treatment
of Iran and Central Asia. Christian chronicles, written in
Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic*), are fewer but they throw
interesting light on the history of early Islam. Besides
chronicles, we have legal texts, geographies, travelogues and
literary works, such as stories and poems.
Documentary evidence (fragmentary pieces of writing,
such as official orders or private correspondence) is the
most valuable for writing histories because it does not
consciously refer to events and persons. It comes almost
entirely from Greek and Arabic papyri (good for
administrative history) and the Geniza records. Some
evidence has emerged from archaeological (excavations
done at desert palaces), numismatic (study of coins) and
epigraphic (study of inscriptions) sources which is of great
value for economic history, art history, and for establishing
names and dates.
Proper histories of Islam began to be written in the
nineteenth century by university professors in Germany and
the Netherlands. Colonial interests in the Middle East and
North Africa encouraged French and British researchers to
study Islam as well. Christian priests too paid close attention
to the history of Islam and produced some good work,
although their interest was mainly to compare Islam with
Christianity. These scholars, called Orientalists, are known
for their knowledge of Arabic and Persian and critical
analysis of original texts. Ignaz Goldziher was a Hungarian
Jew who studied at the Islamic college (al-Azhar) in Cairo
and produced path-breaking studies in German of Islamic
law and theology. Twentieth-century historians of Islam have
largely followed the interests and methods of Orientalists.
They have widened the scope of Islamic history by including
new topics, and by using allied disciplines, such as
economics, anthropology and statistics, have refined many
aspects of Orientalist studies. The historiography of Islam
is a good example of how religion can be studied with
modern historical methods by those who may not share the
customs and beliefs of the people they are studying.
The Rise of Islam in Arabia:
Faith, Community and Politics
During 612-32, the Prophet Muhammad preached the worship of a
single God, Allah, and the membership of a single community of believers
(umma). This was the origin of Islam. Muhammad was an Arab by
language and culture and a merchant by profession. Sixth-century
Arab culture was largely confined to the Arabian peninsula and areas
of southern Syria and Mesopotamia.
*Aramaic is a
language related to
Hebrew and Arabic.
It has also been
used in Ashokan
inscriptions.
2019-2020
79
The Arabs were divided into tribes* (qabila), each led by a chief who
was chosen partly on the basis of his family connections but more for
his personal courage, wisdom and generosity (murawwa). Each tribe
had its own god or goddess, who was worshipped as an idol (sanam) in
a shrine. Many Arab tribes were nomadic (Bedouins), moving from dry
to green areas (oases) of the desert in search of food (mainly dates) and
fodder for their camels. Some settled in cities and practised trade or
agriculture. Muhammad’s own tribe, Quraysh, lived in Mecca and
controlled the main shrine there, a cube-like structure called Kaba, in
which idols were placed. Even tribes outside Mecca considered the
Kaba holy and installed their own idols at this shrine, making annual
pilgrimages (hajj) to the shrine. Mecca was located on the crossroads
of a trade route between Yemen and Syria which further enhanced the
city’s importance (see Map p. 82). The Meccan shrine was a sanctuary
(haram) where violence was forbidden and protection given to all visitors.
Pilgrimage and commerce gave the nomadic and settled tribes
opportunities to communicate with one another and share their beliefs
and customs. Although the polytheistic Arabs were vaguely familiar
with the notion of a Supreme God, Allah (possibly under the influence
of the Jewish and Christian tribes living in their midst), their attachment
to idols and shrines was more immediate and stronger.
Around 612, Muhammad declared himself to be the messenger
(rasul) of God who had been commanded to preach that Allah alone
should be worshipped. The worship involved simple rituals, such as
daily prayers (salat), and moral principles, such as distributing
alms and abstaining from theft. Muhammad was to found a
community of believers (umma) bound by a common set of religious
beliefs. The community would bear witness (shahada) to the existence
of the religion before God as well as before members of other religious
communities. Muhammad’s message particularly appealed to those
Meccans who felt deprived of the gains from trade and religion and
were looking for a new community identity. Those who
accepted the doctrine were called Muslims. They
were promised salvation on the Day of Judgement
(qiyama) and a share of the resources of the
community while on earth. The Muslims soon
faced considerable opposition from affluent
Meccans who took offence to the rejection of
their deities and found the new religion a
threat to the status and prosperity of Mecca.
In 622, Muhammad was forced
to migrate with his followers to Medina.
Muhammad’s journey from Mecca (hijra) was
a turning point in the history of
Islam, with the year of his arrival in
Medina marking the beginning of the
Muslim calendar.
*Tribes are societies
organised on the basis
of blood relationships.
The Arab tribes were
made up of clans or
combinations of large
families. Unrelated
clans also merged to
make a tribe stronger.
Non-Arab individuals
(mawali) became
members through the
patronage of prominent
tribesmen. Even after
converting to Islam, the
mawali were never
treated as equals by
the Arab Muslims and
had to pray in separate
mosques.
THE CENTRAL ISLAMIC LANDS
A thirteenth century
painting from ‘Ajaibul
Makhluqat’ depicting
the artist’s imagination
of the Archangel Gabriel
(Jibril) who brought
messages to
Muhammad. The first
word he spoke was
‘recite’ (iqra) from
which has come the
word Quran. In Islamic
cosmology, angels are
one of the three
intelligent forms of life
in the Universe. The
other two are humans
and jinns.
2019-2020
80 THEMES IN WORLD HISTORY
Islamic Calendar
The Hijri era was established during the caliphate of Umar, with the first year
falling in 622 CE. A date in the Hijri calendar is followed by the letters AH.
The Hijri year is a lunar year of 354 days, 12 months (Muharram to Dhul
Hijja) of 29 or 30 days. Each day begins at sunset and each month with the
sighting of the crescent moon. The Hijri year is about 11 days shorter than the
solar year. Therefore, none of the Islamic religious festivals, including the
Ramazan fast, Id and hajj, corresponds in any way to seasons. There is no easy
way to match the dates in the Hijri calendar with the dates in the Gregorian
calendar (established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 CE). One can calculate the
rough equivalents between the Islamic (H) and Gregorian Christian (C) years
with the following formulae:
(H × 32 / 33) + 622 = C
(C – 622) × 33 / 32 = H
The survival of a religion rests on the
survival of the community of believers. The
community has to be consolidated internally
and protected from external dangers.
Consolidation and protection require
political institutions such as states and
governments which are either inherited from
the past, borrowed from outside or created
from scratch. In Medina, Muhammad
created a political order from all three
sources which gave his followers the
protection they needed as well as resolved
the city’s ongoing civil strife. The umma was
converted into a wider community to include
polytheists and the Jews of Medina under
the political leadership of Muhammad.
Muhammad consolidated the faith for his
followers by adding and refining rituals
(such as fasting) and ethical principles. The
community survived on agriculture and
trade, as well as an alms tax (zakat). In
addition, the Muslims organised
expeditionary raids  on Meccan caravans
and nearby oases. These raids provoked
reactions from the Meccans and caused a
breach with the Jews of Medina. After
Pilgrims at the Kaba, illustration from a fifteenth-
century Persian manuscript.
2019-2020
81
a series of battles, Mecca was conquered and Muhammad’s reputation
as a religious preacher and political leader spread far and wide.
Muhammad now insisted on conversion as the sole criterion for
membership of the community. In the harsh conditions of the desert,
the Arabs attached great value to strength and solidarity. Impressed
by Muhammad’s achievements, many tribes, mostly Bedouins, joined
the community by converting to Islam. Muhammad’s alliances began
to spread until they embraced the whole of Arabia. Medina became the
administrative capital of the emerging Islamic state with Mecca as its
religious centre. The Kaba was cleansed of idols as Muslims were
required to face the shrine when offering prayers. In a short space
of time, Muhammad was able to unite a large part of Arabia under
a new faith, community and state. The early Islamic polity, however,
remained a federation of Arab tribes and clans for a long time.
The Caliphate: Expansion, Civil Wars and
Sect Formation
After Muhammad’s death in 632, no one could legitimately claim
to be the next prophet of Islam. As a result, his political authority
was transferred to the umma with no established principle of
succession. This created opportunities for innovations but also
caused deep divisions among the Muslims. The biggest innovation
was the creation of the institution of caliphate, in which the leader
of the community (amir al-muminin) became the deputy (khalifa) of
the Prophet. The first four caliphs (632-61) justified their powers
on the basis of their close association with the Prophet and
continued his work under the general guidelines he had provided.
The twin objectives of the caliphate were to retain control over the
tribes constituting the umma and to raise resources for the state.
Following Muhammad’s death, many tribes broke away from the
Islamic state. Some even raised their own prophets to establish
communities modelled on the umma. The first caliph, Abu Bakr,
suppressed the revolts by a series of campaigns. The second caliph,
Umar, shaped the umma’s policy of expansion of power. The caliph
knew that the umma could not be maintained out of the modest
income derived from trade and taxes. Realising that rich booty
(ghanima) could be obtained from expeditionary raids, the caliph and
his military commanders mustered their tribal strength to conquer
lands belonging to the Byzantine Empire in the west and the Sasanian
empire in the east. At the height of their power, the Byzantine and
Sasanian empires ruled vast territories and commanded huge
resources to pursue their political and commercial interests in Arabia.
The Byzantine Empire promoted Christianity and the Sasanian empire
patronised Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Iran. On the eve
of the Arab invasions, these two empires had declined in strength
due to religious conflicts and revolts by the aristocracy. This made it
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