3.2 The rise of Islam - T -

AGE 3: The Time of Monks and Knights
3.2 The rise of Islam

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This lesson contains 17 slides, with interactive quiz, text slides and 2 videos.

Items in this lesson

AGE 3: The Time of Monks and Knights
3.2 The rise of Islam


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500 - 1000 AD

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What is this lesson about?
At the beginning of the seventh century, the Arab Muhammed established a new religion, Islam. He and his successors created a large empire stretching from India to Spain. Jews and Christians were allowed to live peacefully in this Arab Empire.

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What you can explain /  do after this lesson
  • how Islam was established by Muhammad and his followers
  • how Islam spread through North Africa and parts of Europe
  • what the difference is between the Christian and Islamic calendar
  • explain why Christians and Jews were treated favorably by Muslims

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Important dates in this lesson:

570: Muhammad is born
622: Muhammad's flight to Medina
630: Muhammad conquers Mecca
632: Muhammad dies
732: Battle of Poitiers

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Word Duty

Bedouins -  nomadic tribes that lived in Arabia
Muhammed - the prophet and, according to Muslims, messenger of God, who laid the foundations for the Islamic religion.
Revelations - visions or other forms of communication recieved from a god.
Quran - the book that contains all the revelations Muhammed recieved from God.
Prophet - Messenger from God.
Islam - monotheistic religion started by Muhammed in the seventh century
Muslims - the followers of Muhammed, who believed in one God only;  Allah
Hijarah - the journey of Muhammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina.
Ummah - community of Muslims
Jihad - Islamic struggle for God
Caliph - political and religious leader of the Ummah
heathen: someone who does not believe in the God of Christians, Jews, or Muslims.

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In this lesson:

  • The Arabian peninsula was a cross road of trade routes
  • Before Islam, the Arabic people were polytheistic. Mecca was the religious center, ruled by the Quraysh.
  • Muhammad was a prophet. He opposed the Quraysh
  • 622: Hijrah: Muhammad's flight to Medina
  • In 630 Muhammad defeated the Quraysh. Only Allah was now worshipped in Mecca.
  • After Muhammad's death his successors were called caliphs.
  • Caliphs expanded Islam across the Middle East and north Africa.
  • In 732 Charles Martel stopped the Islam advance into France.
  • Islam was tolerant towards Christians and Jews.

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Nomadic tribes called Bedouins had lived in Arab lands for centuries. These tribes robbed one another and lived in a constant state of war. What united them in the seventh century? And what enabled them to establish an empire that stretched from India to Spain?

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Geography and people of Arabia

Although the Arabian Peninsula consists mainly of desert and rocky plains, people had lived there for over 15,000 years. Bedouins lived in tribes and used the fertile places in the desert to tend sheep, goats and camels. They sold skins, milk and meat to merchants in exchange for other products.
Besides Bedouins, there were a lot of merchants in Arabia. They played a major role in the trade between Asia, Africa and Europe. Across the desert ran routes that were used by trade caravans. This attracted merchants and craftsmen such as carpenters and blacksmiths to settle at intersections and beside the trade routes. The first towns and cities such as Mecca and Medina were established here.
source 2.8.4
The Pont du Gard is a famous Roman Aquaduct in the south of France, The Roman baths in Bath, in the south of present-day England, were constructed in the 2nd century AD. First elements (temple) were created between 60 and 70 AD.
Some Bedouins today make their living by giving desert tours [Wojtek Arciszewski/Al Jazeera]
modern map of the Arab trade routes in the 6th century AD

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Muhammad and the beginning of Islam

Around 570 AD, a man called Muhammad was born in Mecca. He was a member of the Quraysh, a tribe known for its role in the Meccan trade. Aged around forty, Muhammad claimed that he received revelations from God. His revelations were recorded in the Quran.

Muhammad was a prophet: a messenger from God. His main message was that there was only one God called Allah. Some of the Quraysh relentlessly rejected Muhammad’s preaching. They were the managers of the Ka’aba, the centre of religious life in Mecca. The Ka’aba was packed with statues of many gods worshipped by the Arabs. It attracted many pilgrims, which was favourable for trade in Mecca. The Quraysh saw Muhammad’s monotheistic religion, Islam as a threat to their wealth.
In 622 AD, life in Mecca became too dangerous for Muhammad. Together with his followers, the Muslims, he fled to a city called Medina. This key event is known as the Hijrah. The year of the Hijrah represents the first year of the Islamic calendar and the creation of the Muslim community, the Ummah.
An early version of the Quran, made out of papyrus from the 7th century.
The Islamic calendar is different from the Christian calendar that is commonly used in the West. In western literature, ‘AH’ is used to refer to the Islamic counting of years. AH is short for the Latin phrase ‘Anno Hegirae’, which means: ‘of the Year of the Hijra’. The Islamic year consists of 12 lunar months and is about 11 days shorter than the Christian year.

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Struggles and spread of Islam

In Medina, Muhammad turned into a political leader. He successfully resolved conflicts between local tribes. A number of groups in Medina accepted his leadership. This caused the Ummah to grow.
Even during his stay in Medina, Muhammad was threatened by the Quraysh. This convinced the Ummah to use force against them. Besides being a prophet and a political leader, Muhammad now became a military leader. The biographer Ibn Ishaq collected hundreds of oral stories about Muhammad. 

By 630 AD, Muhammad and his followers had become strong enough to defeat the Quraysh. They seized Mecca and removed the statues from the Ka’aba. From that moment, only Allah was worshipped in Mecca.
The struggle for God, the jihad, continued. Many tribes joined the Ummah. When Muhammad died in 632 AD, nearly all Arab tribes had recognised him as their leader.
The Kaaba ("The Cube") is a building at the center of Islam's most important mosque, Al-Masjid Al-Ḥarām, (The Sacred Mosque), in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred site in Islam.

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From Medina to India and Spain

After Muhammad’s death, a successor called caliph was quickly elected. The caliph was both the political and religious leader of the Ummah. His task was to keep the different tribes that had joined the Ummah united. This was done by focusing the jihad on people outside the borders of Arabia. In ten years, the Ummah occupied lands that are part of modern-day Iraq, Syria and Egypt. Within a century the Arab Empire stretched from Spain in the west to India in the east.

Was there no one who could stop the advancing Muslim armies? The Frankish King Charles Martel (689-741) succeeded in stopping the Muslims at Poitiers (France) in 732. A more important disappointment to the Muslims was that they were not able to seize Constantinople, although they had managed to occupy most of the Eastern Roman Empire.
modern map of the spread of Islam
modern book aboiut the Battle of Poitier between the Muslims and the Franks

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Jews and Christians

The Arabs came in small numbers and did not occupy new lands by force. People who lived in the countryside noticed their presence only a little. For the townspeople, the Arabs simply replaced the foreign occupation by the Eastern Roman or the Persian Empire.
The arrival of the Muslims turned out to be favourable for Jews and Christians. They were allowed to keep practising their own religions, because of its similarities with Islam. All three religions were monotheistic and Muslims also believed in many of their prophets, including Jesus. Heathens on the other hand, were given a simple choice: either convert to Islam or die.
Did this mean that Jews and Christians were treated equally to the Muslims? No. There were many unfavourable rules: they had to pay taxes to the Muslim leaders, were not allowed to carry weapons, marry a Muslim woman or carry out certain jobs.
The rapid expansion of the Arab Empire came to a halt halfway during the eighth century.
Trade and peaceful talks became the new way for Muslims to contact people who were not part of the Ummah.
The Dome of the Rock was built on the Mount Temple in Jerusalem in the 7th century. The Mount Temple is an important place for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Abraham (‘Ibrahim’ in Arabic), a patriarch in all three religions, was supposed to have offered one of his sons to God here.

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You have finished with this lesson, meaning:
- You have read the texts
- You have made the summary
- You have done the practise questions.
Are you well prepared for a quiz / test or do you need extra help?

If you still need help, if something is not clear, you can ask your question here.

Slide 14 - Open question


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Slide 16 - Video

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