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Religion is one of the most ancient forms of culture, and it plays an important role in the development of nations. Islam is a crucial element in the history and culture of not merely Arabs, its first and main adepts, but of all countries of the Middle East, as well as Iranians, Turks, Indians, Indonesians, and North Africans (Yambert 2). The period of Arab conquests and the spread of Islam defined the fate of the peoples included in Islamic civilization: their traditions, ideological heritage, norms of behavior, and mythopoetical and epic images, which remain effective even now.
Arabia is considered to be the geographic origin of Islam.
The Arabian Peninsula is a large territory mostly constituted of the uninhabited desert. However, the minimal amount of moisture and rangelands allowed people to populate some parts of Arabia as far back as prehistoric times. Although, since antiquity, the majority of settlers in the western and the central areas of the peninsula were engaged in animal husbandry and agriculture, there also were a few large and sustained settlements, especially in Hijaz, which is commonly regarded as the cradle of Islam. This region in the western part of central Arabia stretches from Medina to Mecca, which had become an important trade center and local sanctuary even before the appearance of Muhammad and had attracted many commercial dealers and pilgrims (Cleveland and Bunton 7).
Before the revolutionary impulse brought to the region by Muhammad’s activity, Arabia never knew any form of political unity. The most serious ties the Arabic peoples had managed to achieve were the short-lived alliances aimed to realize particular objectives, e.g., mutual protection.
Nevertheless, there was no large-scope political union in Arabia. However, everything changed with the advent of the Islamic age that is primarily associated with the birth of the Prophet Muhammad in the second half of the sixth century, when Hijaz underwent a period of dynamic economic progress and growth. There, Muhammad conveyed the summons he received through the divine revelation—the Holy Quran—and Islam’s followers created a small community of fellow believers, also known as the ummah (Cleveland and Bunton 17).
After the Prophet died in 632, the leadership posts of the Islamic commune were taken by Khalifs—the direct successors of Muhammad who were close to him during his life and served as the live embodiments of the idea about the inseparability of secular and religious power (Cleveland and Bunton 13). The first four khalifs—Abu Bakr (632-634), Umar (634-644), Uthman (644-656), and Ali (656-661)—are also known as “rightly guided” due to their compliance with the Quranic rules (Cleveland and Bunton 13). Throughout their reign, the Caliphate extended to the Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and most of the Iranian territories.
The first Khalifs conquered the vast areas of proximate lands as they recognized the need to unite the diverse tribes who lived there to reduce intercommunal conflicts (Cleveland and Bunton 13). Thus, the dissemination of Islam was regarded as a means to create unity in the Middle East, which was especially important considering the inequality in the commercial and social development in different communities. In a short time, Muhammad’s successors conquered the closest lands as well as some more distant countries of the Mediterranean and the Near East.
And the factors that largely defined the speed and durability of their conquests were the social, economic, and religious character. For example, the conquerors manifested a sufficiently tolerant attitude toward non-Muslim people who lived in the Caliphate because, according to the Quranic commands, Muslims should protect other “people of the Book,” including Jews and Christians, who possessed the scriptures (Cleveland and Bunton 14).
Although non-Muslims (dhimmis) were regarded as an inferior population compared to Muslims, the provided freedom in the profession of their religions supported the sustainability of the Islamic era. Moreover, the taxes imposed on the peasants of the conquered lands by the Arabic-Islamic state were significantly reduced, especially for those who accepted Islam (Cleveland and Bunton 14). As a result, the economic conditions created for people facilitated the transition of the vast masses of the population from diverse national and cultural backgrounds to the new religion.
The outcomes of this kind of economic politics were apparent: The powerful economic triggers created a trouble-free stimulus for the Islamization of the conquered nations in the way that this process did not lag behind the speed of the expansion of the Caliphate’s boundaries. The adoption of Islam by the conquered countries, including the states with ancient and advanced cultures, such as Egypt and Iran, induced a sharp change in the historically established cultural traditions. The spread of Islamic civilization had deeply transformed and unified the mode of life, the system of family and social relationships, ethics, and law at the whole Caliphate level.
In some countries (e.g., Egypt and Mesopotamia), it was followed by Arabization, while in others (e.g., Iran), it was not. But everywhere, everything that contradicted the dogmas of the Quran and did not fit in its strict regulations gradually receded into the background or was completely forgotten. At the same time, Islam came to the forefront in all the regions of the Arabic Caliphate, and it was its norms and principles that determined the further cultural development of the Islamized nations.
Cleveland, William L., and Martin Bunton. A History of the Modern Middle East. Westview, 2016. Web.
Yambert, Karl. The Contemporary Middle East: A Westview Reader. Westview, 2013. Web.