Aspects of Islam
Why does Muslim history begin their historical dating system with the abbreviation 'A.H'?
Just as Christians use A.D. to divide time Muslims use A.H. The term means after Hijrah (lit. migration) and is connected with Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina on September 20th 622 A.D. This event marks the beginning of the Muslim era. It was not his birth or his death, but the Islamic year begins from the time in which Muhammad began to take a religious / political position in Medina.
What happened to Islam when Muhammad died?
Abu Bakr, who was a friend and one of the first converts of Muhammad was elected leader of the Muslim community. He was about three years younger than Muhammad and is reported to have been of noble character. He had been a businessman in Mecca, and after his conversion became a steadfast supporter of Muhammad. He was probably Muhammad’s most trusted counsellor, and was chosen to be his companion in the flight from Mecca to Medina. He gave generously from his possessions to the cause of Muhammad. His daughter A’isha was Muhammad’s favourite wife, a circumstance which united the men still more. Though Abu Bakr was an able leader and a very intelligent man he was not a man who had new thoughts. He had only one concern in life and that was to see that the ideas of his friend and leader Muhammad were carried out. He therefore simply continued the things that Muhammad had begun rather than initiate any new programmes of his own.
How did the conquered Arabian tribes respond after Muhammad’s death?
After the death of Muhammad, tribes everywhere rebelled and claimed the right to be free from the Islamic government and the taxes of the central government in Medina. Abu Bakr considered this a great sin and sent out his military leaders to put down the rebellions. The greatest of these leaders was Khalid ben al-Walid, who had defeated Muhammad at the battle of Uhud but had become a convert during Muhammad’s short visit to Mecca in 629. In conducting this campaign against the rebels Abu Bakr followed the example of Muhammad. His terms of surrender were mild, and after having accepted Islam the people became part of the Islamic community and shared in the spoils of war when they went on military campaigns of the Muslim jihad. In one year’s time the whole of Arabia was subjected to the control of Abu Bakr.
What happened immediately after Arabia submitted to Islam?
After the victory of his armies in Arabia, Abu Bakr sent Khalid to fight the Persians in the north-east and the Byzantine Empire (formerly the Eastern Roman Empire) in the north-west. Khalid won a great victory over the Persians in capturing the city of Hira and after that, defeated the Byzantines in Palestine. These two victories established Islam as a power to be feared and sent it off on the great conquests that were to follow in the next hundred or more years.
Did Islam continue to spread in the early days by the force of arms?
The second leader of the Muslim community was called Umar and under his leadership Islam extended into three large areas — Syria, Persia, and Egypt. They were all won for Islam by force of arms. By 635 Khalid had conquered Damascus and a year later, at the battle of the river Yarmuk, the Byzantine army was completely defeated. After this Heraclius, the Byzantine emperor gave up Syria and it became the undisputed territory of the Muslims. Jerusalem followed next.
Persia had long been a great power. When Umar sent his armies against Persia there had been much unrest within the country as one king quickly succeeded another, therefore the land was not unified. After many battles the Persian Empire finally collapsed following their defeat at Nehavand in 641. Now the Muslims were perceived as a seemingly unconquerable force.
Islam entered Africa in 640 when Egypt, a Byzantine province, fell to the Muslim conqueror ‘Amr ben al’As. He also helped to conquer Syria, and played a leading role in the conquest of Palestine.
Why did these empires fall so easily?
The reason was not merely that the Muslims were so strong, though they were strong but that the Persian and the Byzantine empires, against which the Muslims fought, were weak. They were old empires – the Persian Empire nearly thirteen centuries old, the Roman Empire (of which Byzantium was the continuation in the east) six centuries old – and were no longer able to give strong resistance to a young enemy. For this reason Persia, Syria and Palestine fell easily.
Who were the leaders in these early days of the spread of Islam?
As mentioned above Abu Bakr was the first leader of the Muslim community and because he continued in the footsteps of Muhammad he had the full support of all the community. When he died in 634, the Islamic community was left in a state of great stability. He was followed by Umar Ibn al-Khattab (634-644);Uthman (644-656) and Ali (656-661).
What are the historical origins of the rift between the Sunni Muslims and the Shi’ah Muslims?
Ali was a cousin and a member of the same tribe as Muhammad, he also married one of his daughters, Fatima. He was either the first or the second male convert of Muhammad and so was a follower of the Prophet from the very earliest days of Islam. He took part in all the great battles of Islam. On account of Ali’s close relationship with Muhammad his supporters felt that he was the rightful successor and also Shi’ah tradition states that Muhammad chose Ali to be his heir when he was on his last pilgrimage. Ali, however, accepted the will of the people who chose Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman as caliph’s.
Uthman (third caliph) was murdered in 656, and then Ali was chosen as caliph. It proved to be a very unhappy reign and in the end he too was murdered. Two of the early companions of Muhammad and the governor of Syria, Mu’awiya, rebelled against him. After a period of conflict and negotiations Ali gave up the leadership of the whole Muslim community and became leader only in Persia. Mu’awiya was proclaimed caliph and was accepted by the larger part of the Islamic community. As a result of these developments there came into being in Islam a fundamental division concerning the succession in the caliphate. The division remains to this day. Sunnis hold that anyone from the Qurraish is eligible to become caliph while the Shi’ite say that only the successors of Ali are the legitimate successors to the caliphate.
What does the term Khalif (Caliph) mean?
It is the title of the spiritual and political leader who took over after Muhammad’s death. The Anglicised term “caliph” means viceroy or representative. The caliph was therefore the representative of Allah on earth. He took Muhammad’s place as the head of the Islamic Umma or community.
The first four caliphs are called the orthodox caliphs because there was no doubt about their right to be Muhammad’s successors. After the death of Ali, however, there arose much dissension as to who the caliph should be and as a consequence much rivalry and unhappy tension arose. The first four caliphs were very able men and during their time in office Islam made great gains. They established the caliphate as an institution of great importance in Islam, and it remained so for several centuries. In time, it grew less in importance though it remained as a title for many years until it was abolished in 1924.