Islamic Cultural Traditions


AP Theme

Cultural Developments and Interactions

Learning Objective 1

Explain how systems of belief and their practices affected society from c. 1200 to c. 1450. 

Historical Development 1

The Middle East birthed three of the world’s great monotheistic faiths.

Historical Development 2

 The Quran and Hadith led to the emergence of an Islamic culture that spread widely.

Historical Development 3

The spread of Islamic culture shaped societies across Asia and Africa.


The Three Great Monotheistic Faiths

The Middle East (Western Asia) is the birthplace of three of the world’s great monotheistic religious traditions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all arose in the small area that stretches from modern-day Israel to Saudi Arabia. Each of these religions is closely related, holding many of the same core beliefs. Each of these monotheistic religions functioned as a newer version of the previous monotheistic faiths.

Islamic Cultural Elements

The Islamic world (Dar al-Islam) developed a rich culture of art, architecture, governance, law, language, and social practices. As Islam expanded into new regions, Islamic culture also spread. Islamic cultural elements blended with native cultures. But the exchange went both ways as Islam adopted modified practices within different areas.

The two most important parts of Islam that shaped Islamic culture were the Quran and the Hadiths.

The Quran: Muslims believe the Quran is God’s word as spoken to Muhammad. It is the holiest text in Islam. 

The Hadiths: The Hadiths are a series of traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that cover many topics that the Quran fails to address. Unlike the Quran, the Hadiths are not Muhammad’s words and were written down and recorded centuries after his death. 

The influence of the Quran and Hadiths extends across all areas of Islamic culture and guides decision-making in all areas of Islamic cultural life, from governance, business to art and architecture. 

Islamic Culture Blends With Native Cultures

As the Islamic world grew in size, new Islamic societies were not exact copies of previous Islamic societies. Islam adapted itself as it entered new regions and new cultures. These changes were a necessity to keep Islam spreading. By adopting some native cultural practices, Islam became more acceptable to native populations. Examples of selective adoption of Islamic culture include the following.

  • Persia adopted the Arabic script. However, they kept their Persian language. Islamic communities in South Asia speak Urdu, a combination of Arabic, Persian, and native South Asian regional languages. While Urdu contains many non-Arabic words, Urdu speakers write in Arabic script.
  • In Xian, China, a Mosque was built along the far eastern Silk Road trade route. Builders constructed the mosque in the traditional imperial Chinese character with slanted roofs and curved points. The mosque did not include traditional Islamic domes. However, the mosque toward Mecca, the direction in which Muslims pray.
  • Islamic miniature paintings developed as a popular non-religious Islamic art form. These small paintings violated standard Islamic custom because they depicted animals and humans. These paintings were not native to Arabia but entered Islam from cultures such as the Persians, who the Muslims conquered early in their expansion.

Islamic Culture Shapes Spain, Africa, and Asia

The expansion of Islam diffused both Islamic religion and culture. In the areas in which Islam spread, Islamic governance, law, language, and art and architecture became increasingly dominant as they blended with local cultures.

Browse by AP World History Learning Objective