Basic Islamic History

The significant spread of Islam in early Arabia begins in 622 CE. in Medina. The Prophet Muhammad and his followers were bitterly persecuted by the Arabs in Makkah and subsequently migrated to Medina. There, with the help of the local Jews and Christians the first Islamic State was established.

Legend on map:

Ottoman Empire 1923

Ottoman Empire 1683

Safavid Empire mid-6th C.

Safavid & Uzbeks mid-16th C.

Rightly Guided Caliphs 632-661

Umayyad expansion 661-750

Abbasid expansion 750-1258

Mughal Empire mid-16th C.


Islamic Golden Age from 622 – 1700’s.

Islam, as a political system, was established as a Government where Jews, Christians, Muslims and pagans lived together under alliances that afforded peace and tolerance. The Prophet made many political alliances that allowed communities of peoples from other faiths and political systems to play an active role in the Islamic Government.

During Abu Bakr’s term, the Islamic Government in Arabia was surrounded by two super-powers, the Great Roman Empire and the Persian Empire. Both Empires were very cruel and oppressive of their people. With the help of key players (Christians) within those empires, Abu Bakr liberated considerable portions of both Empires, which made valuable additions to the State and established a sound system of justice.

While Europe was going through the Dark Age, the Islamic State began to blossom into a Golden Age, offering freedom and opportunity for people of all ethnicities and faiths. During the first 115 years of the Abbasid Caliphate, (from 750 to 1258 CE) the State saw a record growth in the fields of the arts of literature and music, the sciences (especially astronomy), philosophy, mathematics, medicine, culture, commerce, and industry. Arabic, the language of the Qur’an became the language of international scholarship. In addition to the capital, Baghdad, many provincial centers competed with each other in intellectual attainment. Modern cultural practices such as the use of napkins and dessert after meals originated from the Islamic State.

In 751 CE, with the help of a few Chinese prisoners, the Abbasid governor of Samarqand founded the paper industry. In 800 CE paper mills were established in Baghdad and Damascus. In 900 CE one was established in Cairo. By 1150 CE several were established in Morocco and Spain. As a result, Islamic learning spread rapidly into Europe and much of today’s western learning is based from this Islamic Golden Age.

In 756 CE, Amir Abd ar-Rahman came to power in Spain. His term also contributed to the Islamic Golden Age. He organized a system of law and justice and was very fond of knowledge and learning. Great architecture advancements came from his term as he built magnificent Masjids and other buildings. Countries from all over Europe sought the knowledge and learning from Spain during his term. Islamic Universities were the only educational institutions free of charge.

In 830 CE the seventh Abbasid Caliph, al-Mamun, established the famous House of Wisdom in Bagdad. The Greek language gave way to Arabic as a form of expression of scientific and philosophical ideas. Classical Greek literature was translated into Arabic and Arabic speaking scholars wrote a number of renowned commentaries.

At the awakening of Medieval Western Europe, the scholars first turned to Arabic translations of Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy and many others. In order to enrich Christian Europe in scientific, medical and philosophical studies, these works had to be retranslated into Latin. This was mainly done in Muslim Spain and Sicily and these books served as textbooks in universities for centuries.

The Decline of Islamic Empire and Colonization from 1700’s – 1950’s.

Upon the end of the Crusades from Europe, Crusaders and their families saw conquered territories as lands ‘flowing with milk and honey’. Many of them chose to immigrate to these territories in the Middle East, Asia Minor and North Africa. The warring kings of Europe, formerly the Roman Empire, had stagnated their economies by wasting their resources in their bitter wars against each other and in the Crusade campaigns. The newly conquered territories were rich in food, raw materials, precious metals and other resources valuable to Europe. It offered prime opportunity for the kings of Europe to establish ‘colonial’ governments among the former Crusaders, who had immigrated into these conquered territories, in order to tap the rich resources of the land and export them to Europe. After Europe revitalized its economies colonialist expansion had begun.

The French invasion (1798-1801): The three-year French occupation was too short to exert any lasting effects on Egypt, despite claims to the contrary. Its most important effect on Egypt internally was the rapid decline in the power of the Mamluks. The major impact of the French invasion was the effect it had on Europe. Napoleon’s invasion revealed the Middle East as an area of immense strategic importance to the European powers, thus inaugurating the Anglo-French rivalry for influence in the region and bringing the British into the Mediterranean.

The effects of colonialism on the Islamic State is quite evident. Territories rich in resources, and populated by indigenous races, were exploited by colonial governments. Innovative technology was brought in from Europe to exploit agriculture, demolish precious monuments, enforce colonial rules and customs. The once fertile lands began to succumb to famine, disease, and death. The Islamic State began to erode and become dependent on the colonial governments for aid and technological advances. When, even as noted in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, the kings of Europe showed no mercy and refused aid then insurrections occurred demanding independence. For many, the extent of the damage had already occurred. Today, these former colonies established within the boarders of the Islamic State struggle with the effects colonialism.

Then as now, Afghanistan was the center of that struggle, offering Britain countless challenges until, in 1878, Lord Frederick Sleigh Roberts asserted control over Afghanistan. In 1880, he marched 10,000 troops from Kabul to Kandahar to the aid of a beleaguered British garrison. The battle left 600 Afghans and 35 British dead, a token of the bloodshed that has steeped the region’s wars and convinced outsiders of the perils of intervening there. The British withdrew in 1881 after many battles and uprisings, leaving the country in the hands of a native ruler. He, in 1893, agreed to a division of tribal areas that became Afghanistan’s northeastern border with British India — and that is now its troublingly porous border with Pakistan.

The British role in molding the theater of today’s regional conflicts was by no means just military. With World War I under way, Britain and France reached a secret deal to carve up the Middle East. And that deal — the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 — was central to the western division of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920’s, a moment that, for radical Islamists like Osama bin Laden, is mourned as the final passing of the Muslim Caliphate that dated to the Prophet Muhammad and reviled as an episode of profound cultural humiliation.

As for the modern contest of Israeli and Palestinian nationalisms, its seeds were sown by imperial British involvement in the Arab world, which has also shaped many of the borders and conflicts that endure to this day in Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In the so-called Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain promised support to the Zionist project, even as British officials were maneuvering to sponsor Arab independence.

Post colonial period from 1950’s – present.

Many of the trends in Muslim countries are a result of the third historical period as Muslims, like much of the third world, struggle to define themselves in a post-modern world.

After colonialism had left, very little stability was left behind and the original Islamic State no longer existed. The Caliphate, which was under the Ottoman’s, Sunni Muslims from Turkey, eventually was dismantled in 1929.

This led to the creation of a “ruling class” where the people are secondary to the dictators regime.

Disputes like we see today in Palestine, Kashmir and elsewhere are lasting effects of the colonial period.

The former Islamic State has now been divided into various countries and power given to those who continue to rule their nations in the same harsh colonialist fashion. Muslims struggle under sometimes brutal oppression from dictators, kings and police states. Most are devoid of the values that existed in the Islamic State and are frequent violators of Human Rights.


-Article by BrJimC © 2003