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A Brief History of Islam

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Islam has a world following in excess of one billion devotees; about twenty percent are in the Middle East. The largest concentration of Muslims is in Indonesia. Islam has greatly influenced the world both culturally and politically since its conception by Mohammad around 610 C.E. This synopsis will focus on Islam's origin, concept, expansion and division across the Near East and Africa.

Most historians ascribe the beginning of Islam during the lifetime of the prophet Mohammad who lived during the 6th and 7th centuries, from 570 to 632 A.D. It was this Arab merchant who created the religion Islam, or "submission to will of God." Muslims believe that Mohammad spoke directly to God and Mohammad then wrote what he heard from God in the Quran. Translation of the Quran is "a recitation." According to the Quran, Islam began in Mecca, where Mohammad started his prophecies and preaching.

Islam has five major beliefs, or "pillars." The five pillars of Islam are the five laws or duties that each Muslim must follow to be considered faithful. The five pillars are Shahada, Salat, Zakat, Swam and Hajj. The five pillars include faith (faith in one God, Allah), prayer, alms (charity), fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca. Anyone who is a believer of Islam is a Muslim. In 622 C.E., Mohammad became the ruler of a nearby city called Medina. This made the prophet a political and religious leader. At this point the Islam faith became a means of government. Mohammad started an onslaught of wars. He called each of these wars a jihad, or holy war. The Muslims believed that when a soldier died in a jihad, he instantly went to a heavenly paradise.

After Mohammad's death, the spread of Islam reached new heights. Abu-Bakr was the first successor, or caliph to Mohammad. This was the name for those who became the leader of the Muslim faith. Caliphs were also known as the "rightly guided." Three other caliphs succeeded Abu-Bakr. The first was Umar, then Uthman Ibn Al-Affan, and finally there was Ali Ibn Abi Talib. Caliphs helped spread the Islamic territory through jihads. During the reign of the first four caliphs, Islam spread like wildfire. The Muslim triumphs in the Near East can be partly accounted for by the long series of wars between the Byzantine and Persian Empires. In 636 C.E., Arab armies conquered Syria. The Muslims then won Iraq from the Persians and within ten years after Mohammad's death, conquered Persia itself. The greater part of Egypt fell in 640 C.E. By the end of the reigns of the first four caliphs, Islam had vastly expanded its territory in the Near East.

After the death of the last caliph, Ali, the control of Islam was taken by a man named Muawiya Abi Sufyan and the rule of Islam was put in the hands of Umayyad dynasty. The capital city during the Umayyad dynasty was Damascus. The Umayyad aristocracy viewed



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