Islam Expanded Rapidly in Multiple Waves
Islam began on the Arabian peninsula before expanding across Afro-Eurasia in several waves of expansion.
By the middle of the 15th century, Islam’s influence extended further than any other belief system or religion that came before it—from Spain in Western Europe to the Islands of Southeast Asia. Most remarkable about Islamic expansion is the speed at which it happened—taking less than 100 years to expand across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Iberian peninsula (modern Portugal and Spain). By 1350, the Islamic society had spread even further, controlling territory that spanned 8000 miles from Spain to Southeast Asia.
The arrival of Islam into a region often resulted in the following changes to that area existing social systems:
- Governance became Islamic with Muslim rulers.
- Legal systems used Islamic law (Sharia).
- Elite groups adopted the Arabic language and script.
- Artists and architects adopted some Islamic art and architectural styles.
Islamic culture is a significant force shaping Afro-Eurasia. Chinese culture, especially Confucianism, was a dominant force that shaped East Asia.
The expansion of Islam happened in several waves over 1000 years.
How Did Islam Expand?
Islam expanded through multiple methods, including conquest, trade, and missionary work.
The spread of Islam and the creation of Dar al-Islam (the Islamic world) took place through various methods.
Islamic expansion into North Africa, Spain, India, and Anatolia happened through military conquest. Once in power, Islamic rulers took control and transitioned the governing and legal systems into Islamic systems.
Islamic expansion into Western and Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia took place through a slower process led by merchant activity. As Islamic traders interacted and prospered in these regions, Islamic cultural and economic influence increased, which resulted in the conversion of the native governing classes to Islam.
Pay close attention to the role of trade and networks of exchange play and spreading culture and leading to significant historical changes throughout the course.
Sufi missionaries also helped spread Islam, especially to ordinary people outside the elite classes. Sufi Muslims practice a mystical form of Islam that rejects worldly goods and wealth. They believe that Muslims must form a personal relationship with God.
- In India, the former Byzantine empire, and Southeast Asia, Sufi missionaries traveled preaching Islam and engaging in charity work.
- They had extensive contact with people outside cities where Islamic leaders and the governing class rarely ventured.
- The mystical Sufi form of Islamic practice allowed Sufi missionaries to blend Islamic practices with local traditions. This blended form of Islam helped make Islam more understandable to local populations, making it easier to convert them from their traditional belief systems.
Turkish Muslims Began to Dominate the Islamic World in the 13th Century
In the 13th century, Islamic converts from Central Asia (the Turks) moved into the Middle East and replaced the Arabs as the most powerful group in the Islamic world. Turkish Muslims founded many of the most powerful Islamic political dynasties between the 13th and 19th centuries.
In the 13th century, the Islamic world underwent a massive change. For its first 600 years, the Islamic world had been dominated and led by Arab Muslims connected to Muhammad’s original Arabian tribes. Turkish Muslims from Central Asia became the dominant political and ruling force in Middle Eastern Islam after they migrated into the region and grew their territories.
Arab dominance: The Islamic world before the 13th century
Within a few decades following Islamic expansion under Muhammad, a vast Islamic empire began to take shape. For the next six hundred years, large portions of the Islamic world remained centralized under two expansive Islamic caliphates (kingdoms) ruled by Arab Muslims that could trace their lineage to Muhammad’s original tribe.
- The Umayyad Caliphate (661-750) stretched from Persia across North Africa to Spain. However, corruption and anger from non-Arab Muslims at the privileged position of Arab Muslims led to the weakening and collapse of the Umayyad.
- The Abbasid Caliphate also stretched from Persia to North Africa. With the help of Persian Muslims, the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258) overthrew the Umayyad leadership. The Abbasid caliphs were Arab but increased the power of non-Arabs within the centralized administration of the empire and created a multi-ethnic form of Islam.
Before the 13th century, the two following features defined governance of the Islamic world.
- The Islamic world (dar al-Islam) remained centralized under a large caliphate and caliph (Islamic kingdom and Islamic ruler).
- Arab Muslims who could trace their lineage back to Muhammad’s original tribe governed the Islamic world.
The collapse of the Abbasid Empire and the end of Arab political dominance in the Islamic world
During its peak, the Abbasid dynasty was one of the wealthiest and grandest civilizations of early history. Abbasid rulers supported artists and built great libraries and centers of learning that attracted scholars from across the world.
Despite their achievements, various internal and external problems weakened and collapsed this once great Islamic empire.
The Rise of Turkish Power: the Islamic World after the 13th century
The collapse of the Abbasid resulted in significant political change in the Islamic world.
Political fragmentation: The Middle Eastern Islamic world fragmented. Instead of one Islamic power controlling North Africa and most of the Middle East, multiple Islamic powers existed within the region.
Varied forms of Islamic practice: Islamic practices and traditions became more diverse as different Islamic leaders created political and social alliances with various Islamic groups.
The Rise of Turkic Muslims: Arab domination of the Islamic world ended. The Islamic world’s dominant force shifted from Arab Muslims who shared direct ancestry with the prophet Muhammad to Turkic Muslims who had immigrated to the Middle East from Central Asia. From North Africa to India, the most influential Islamic leaders were of Turkic ancestry. This Turkic influence led to a much more diverse Islamic culture.
New Turkic Muslim dynasties
As Turkic Muslims gained power, they established multiple new dynasties across the Middle East and North Africa.