HIST 101 Lecture Outline (Spring 2023 – Week 10)

HIST 101

The Expansive Realm of Islam, to 900 CE



The Life of Muhammed (BBC documentary, 2:51:44 hours):

Islamic call to prayer (3:33 min.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fe8qRj12OhY

Chanting of Surah Rahman (22:36 min.):



Cultures, pp. 291-311 (The Arabian background; the Qur’an and history; from preacher to conqueror; the Islamic empire; Sunnis and Shi’a)


Physical map of Arabia

Asia in 600 CE

Spread of Islam, 622-750 CE

Arabia is mostly desert; only 1% of the land supported agriculture, and some tribes were nomads with flocks of sheep and goats. Permanent settlement was possible only where there was water.  Important trading centers included Mecca, near the Red Sea coast, and Medina (Yathrib), about 300 miles N. of Mecca and farther inland. The population of Arabia was tribal, and the economy was based on trade — mainly the carrying of exotic luxury goods across Arabia or up the western coast to the E. Mediterranean. The goods carried included silks and spices from China and India, gold and ivory from Africa, and frankincense and myrrh from Yemen and Somalia.

There were Jews and Christians in pre-Islamic Arabia, but most Arabs were polytheists who worshiped a pantheon of gods and goddesses. The most important shrine was the Ka’ba  (“Cube”) in Mecca, which housed hundreds of religious statues and other sacred objects, including the “Black Stone” (a meteorite), which was worshiped for its heavenly origins. Pilgrims came from throughout Arabia to worship at the Ka’ba.

Tribal and clan conflicts were common, but Arabia and its trade routes were also vulnerable to the external conflicts between the Byzantines and the Persians, and between the Yemenites in SW Arabia and the Abyssinians across the Red Sea in Ethiopia. In the early 520s CE, a war between the Jewish kingdom of Himyar in N. Yemen and the Christian kingdom of Axum in Ethiopia included massacres of the Christians in  Himyar, and spurred the Byzantines and the Persians to seize control of Arab trade routes and centers throughout the Near East.

c. 570-632 CE   Lifetime of Muhammed

Much of what is known of Muhammed’s life and his opinions and judgments comes from the recollections of his followers, which were transmitted orally and later assembled into written collections called hadith (“accounts”).

Muhammed was born to the Banu Hashim clan within the powerful Quraysh tribe, which had charge of the Ka’ba. His father died before he was born, and his mother when he was six. His grandfather, the chief of the Banu Hashim clan, took him in, but died two years later, and thereafter he was raised by an uncle, Abu Talib (c. 535-c. 619 CE).

In 595 CE, aged 25, Muhammed was hired by a wealthy 40-year-old widow of Mecca called Khadijah (555-619 CE), who owned a caravan business. She asked him to marry her, and they had a loving, monogamous marriage for almost 25 years. They had 2 sons, both of whom died in childhood, and 4 daughters, all of whom died in their twenties. Only one daughter, Fatima (d. 633), had  children who survived to adulthood.

In 610 CE  Muhammed experienced a vision (“Call”) that he was summoned by Allah (God) to hear God’s message and to serve as God’s final prophet.

Khadijah was the first person to accept the new faith, Islam (“submission”); Muhammed’s young cousin, Ali (601-661 ), who was brought up in Muhammed’s household, was the second.

From 610 to 632, Muhammed received a series of visions in which God’s message was recited to him in chapters (surahs), which he then dictated  to his followers, especially Ali. After Muhammed’s death, the surahs were assembled into a book, the Qur’an (“recital”). The Qur’an is the holy book of Islam, which also accepts the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels as sacred scriptures. The hadith are venerated as witnesses to the Prophet’s life and judgments, not as sacred scriptures.

619   Deaths of Abu Talib and Khadijah. After Khadijah’s death Mohammed took other wives.

622  Hijra (or Hegira, “flight”) of Muhammed and his followers, driven by the Quraysh to flee from Mecca to Medina (= Year 1 of the Muslim calendar).

Muhammed soon became the religious, military, civil, and judicial ruler of a dawning Islamic state with Medina as its capital.

629/630  Conquest of Mecca

632  Death of Muhammed

5 “pillars of Islam”:
  • believing that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammed is his messenger or prophet
  • praying 5 times daily, facing towards the Ka’ba in Mecca
  • giving alms to the poor
  • fasting during the month of Ramadan
  • making a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca

Other Islamic beliefs and practices include:

  • Acceptance of many figures from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament (from Adam to Jesus) as prophets, with Muhammed as the final prophet
  • Belief in angels
  • Belief in a Day of Judgment and life after death
  • Belief in heaven and hell
  • Circumcision of males
  • No consumption of pork and alcohol

The Sunni/Shi’a Split (the Sunni accepted caliphs who were not descendants of Muhammed to lead the Muslim state after Mohammed’s death; the Shi’a did not):

Muhammed (c. 570-632 CE) m. (1) Khadijah (d. 619 CE); (m. 12 other wives later)
|                                      |
(3 daughters)            Fatimah (d. 633 CE) m. Ali (Muhammed’s cousin; 4th caliph)
|                                                    |                                                  |
Hassan (624-670 CE)      Hussein (626-680 CE)        (2 daughters)


Map of military campaigns, 622-750 CE

Following the death of Muhammed:

632-634 CE    Abu Bakr (Muhammed’s friend and father of his youngest wife, Aisha) = 1st caliph (capital remains at Medina)

634-644          Umar (father of one of Muhammed’s later wives; chosen as successor by Abu Bakr; assassinated) = 2nd caliph

644- 656         Uthman (husband, successively, of 2 of Muhammed’s daughters; assassinated) = 3rd caliph

656-661          Ali (Muhammed’s cousin and widower of Fatima; later wives included a granddaughter of Muhammed; father of Muhammed’s grandsons Hassan and Hussein; assassinated) = 4th caliph

661-750          Umayyad dynasty est. by a cousin of Uthman (capital moves to Damascus, of which he had been governor)

680                  Ali’s surviving son, Hussein, tries to gain the caliphate by force, but is killed at the battle of Karbala, leaving an infant son (Ali) to continue the line. Shi’i Muslims commemorate this battle annually during ten days of Ashurah.

Muhammed’s last-surviving widow (Umm Salama) died in 680.





Empire of Faith, Part 2: The Awakening (53 min.; on Bagdad, Cordoba, and the rise and spread of scholarship in the Muslim world, watch 4:00-18:17; trade and crafts, 35:00-39:00):

The Artistic Legacy of Abbasid Baghdad (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 3:44 min.):


Cultures, pp. 311-321 (Islam and the classical traditions; women and Islam)

Sources, pp. 138-163 (the Qur’an; Ibn Ishaq, Life of Muhammad; al-Ghazali, The Deliverer from ErrorOne Thousand and One Nights; Maimonides, Letter to Yemen; Usamah ibn Munqidh, Memoirs; Ibn Rushd, On the Harmony of Religious Law and Philosophy; Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed)

750-1258        Abbasid dynasty est. by a descendant of an uncle of Muhammed (capital moves to Baghdad)

750-950         “Golden age” of the Abbasids, including the reign of Harun al-Rashid (r. 786-809), who features in the great collection of tales, the Thousand and One Nights

873                  Last Shia imam (descendant of Muhammed through Ali and Hussein) dies at age four, with no brothers.

After centuries of awaiting the Shia imam’s return, spiritual power among Shia Muslims passed to a council of twelve elders, who elected a supreme Imam.

Islam and the Greco-Roman Traditions:

Beginning in the 700s, Syrian Christians (mostly monks) began to translate the writings of the Greeks and Romans into Arabic, and Muslim scholars quickly absorbed them. They were not interested in plays or epic poems, but they took great interest in other forms of poetry, and also in works on mathematics, science, medicine, history, and philosophy, and in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. From the late 700s to the late 800s the caliphs maintained two translation centers in Baghdad, the new Muslim capital: one was headed by the Arab scholar al-Kindi (d. c. 870), and the other by the Syrian Christian physician Hunayn ibn Ishaq (d. c. 873), who also translated the Septuagint (Greek) version of the Hebrew Bible into Arabic.

As there had been among Christian scholars in the early centuries, there was great debate among Muslim scholars as to whether it was dangerous and wrong to read religious or philosophical works by people of other faiths, especially pagans.

Women and Islam:

As in other cultures, including pre-Islamic Arabia, in the Islamic world, women were subordinated to men, and were expected to be modest and obedient. Islam permitted each man to have up to four wives at a time, and also to marry a wife for a fixed, brief period. However, Islam accorded some concrete rights to women by law, including the return of dowries to divorced  women, a share of a dead husband’s estate to widows, and the requirement that a polygamous husband treat each wife with respect.


Primary sources:

The Qur’an, Surah 37: Describes the resurrection and judgment of the dead, and the punishments of non-believers in the flames of hell, and the delights in the garden of paradise for the believers. Also refers to the biblical stories of Noah and the Great Flood, and of Abraham and his willingness to obey God’s command to sacrifice his son (here Ishmael, rather than Isaac), and of Moses and Aaron, and of Elijah and Jonah.

Ibn Ishaq (704-770), Life of Muhammad: The first excerpt describes Muhammed’s “night journey” of his spirit to Jerusalem, with a vision of heaven and hell; the second excerpt describes Mohammed’s siege of the Jewish community of Medina, his execution of the men and enslavement of the women and children.

al-Ghazali (1058-1111), The Deliverer from Error: The celebrated scholar describes his loss of faith in reconciling reason with revelation, and his shift to Sufi mysticism and asceticism.

One Thousand and One Nights (1100-1200): Examples of the never-ending tales from this celebrated collection.

Maimonides (1135-1204), Letter to Yemen (1172): Letter of advice to the persecuted Jewish community of Yemen, reminding them that in age after age the Jews have been persecuted  — by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Syrians, Persians, Greeks, Christians, and Muslims — because only the Jews have followed the true, divine, authentic religion, as revealed by Moses. Also reminds them that there have been many false messiahs, and that the man who is now claiming to be the messiah is simply a madman.

Usamah ibn Munqidh (1095-1188), Memoirs (1183):  Describes the cultural ignorance and barbarity of the Crusaders — some of whom he befriended — who had settled in the Holy Land.

Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), On the Harmony of Religious Law and Philosophy: A learned physician and judge, and a philosopher whose work was deeply admired by Western scholars (the “Latin Averroists”). This extract discusses whether humans have free will (as the Mutazilites believe), or are controlled by predestination (as the Jabarites believe): Ibn Rushd reconciles the two positions by saying that humans freely choose their actions, but that their choices are only brought to fulfillment by Allah’s predestined design.

Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed:  These extracts are examples of Maimonides’ commentaries on the various levels of meanings of Biblical passages, using multiple forms of analysis (linguistic, historical, metaphorical, philosophical, etc.). (Click here to see an autograph draft page of this work.)