Islamic History and Civilization:
On the outer edge of the Latin world, in Sicily, Spain & North Africa, and surrounding Byzantium in Palestine, Egypt and Syria, was the world of Islam. Islam was a threat and the source both of new ideas to the Greek East and Latin West for centuries. Among the 7th & 12th centuries, Islam became the hub of a brilliant civilization and of a philosophic, great scientific and artistic culture. Though its language was neither Latin nor Greek, Islam absorbed a great deal of Greek culture which it managed to protect for the Latin West. Normally, it can be said that Islam absorbed & added its culture to the heritage of Rome, Judaism, Greece, Christianity, and the Near East.
The History of Prophet Muhammad:
In the starting the Muslims were both open and cautious. They borrowed & integrated elements of other cultures in their own. The new religion of Islam, which we will get to in a moment, adopted elements of Jewish, Christian & pagan religious beliefs and practices. The Muslims tolerated religious minorities in territories they had conquered so long as these minorities identified Islamic political rule, taxes, paid and did not proselytize among Muslims. Still, the Muslims were careful to defend the purity of their language, religion and law from any foreign effect. With the passage of time and with enhanced conflict with eastern and western both Christians, this protective instinct grew stronger. Finally, Islamic culture did not penetrate the west in the similar way that Germanic culture did, but would remain strange plus threatening to the West.
Of course , Basic to Islam was its religion this is true for the medieval west as well. Though, we know more about early Christianity then we do regarding early Islam. And the cause is clear. Christianity was generated by a literate culture. However, Islamic religion was composed largely in an illiterate, nomadic culture.
The home of Islam is the Arabian Peninsula. The Peninsula is deserted predominantly and the tribes who inhabited this area were nomadic, i.e., they traveled from place to place. Politically speaking, Islam was not a unified territory nor was there any centralized government.
In Islamic civilization the great unifying agent was obviously that of Muhammad (c.570-632). He was born at Mecca and grew up by family of modest means. His father had expired in the year of his birth and his mother expired when he was 6 years old. At time of Muhammad's birth, Mecca was one of the most wealthy caravan cities. Though, Mecca was still tied to the traditional religious and social life of the Arabian world. In other terms, it was governed by the tribal societies of the desert. In the tribe Membership was determined by blood descent. In such kind of order, the interests of the individual were always subordinate to those of the group or tribe. Each of the tribe worshipped its own gods in the form of objects from nature (sky, moon, dog, cat, ram) but in common all Arabs worshipped one object: the Kaaba, a large black stone enshrined at Mecca. It was the Kaaba that made Mecca important as a place of pilgrimage and worship.
As a youth, Muhammad employed as a merchant's assistant, traveling the main trade routes of the Peninsula. While he was 25, he married the widow of a rich merchant and became a man of means. He also became social activist, critical of Meccan materialism, paganism, and the unjust handling of the needy and poor.
Muhammad worked hardly at his career but like so several "saviors" & prophets, Muhammad was plagued by doubts. His doubt enhanced to such an extent that he left Meccan society and lived a life of isolation in the desert. In 610, and at the age of 40 year old, he attained his first revelation and starts to preach. He believed his revelations came from God directly, a God who spoke to him by the means the angel Gabriel, who recited God's terms to him at irregular intervals. These revelations rise into the Qur'an which his followers compiled among 650 and 651. The fundamental message Muhammad attained was a summons to all Arabs to submit to God's will. Islam means "submission to will of God."
There was little that was new in Muhammad's message. It had been spoken through a long line of Jewish prophets going back to Noah however now ending along with Muhammad, the last of God's chosen prophets. The Qur'an also identified Jesus Christ as a prophet however did not view him as God's co-eternal & co-equal son. Similar to Judaism, Islam was a monotheistic and theocratic religion, not Trinitarian like Christianity.
The fundamental beliefs of Muhammad's religion were (1) that God is omnipotent and good, (2) that God will judge all of the men on the last day and assign them their place in either Hell or Heaven, (3) that men should thank to God for making the world as it is, (4) that God expects men to be generous along with their wealth, and (5) that Muhammad was a prophet sent by God to teach men and warn them of the final judgment.
It has to be clear that several of these beliefs are alike to those of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Though, Muhammad's religion was not a mere copy. Rather then, Muhammad's religion rise as a result of the economic and social conditions of Mecca itself. One other distinct ought to be noted. Christianity was generated in an urban environment whereas the faith of Muhammad was fashioned from his life in the desert.
For Muhammad, there were also five obligations which were necessary to his faith: (i) the profession of faith ¨C there is no God but Muhammad and Allah was the last prophet, (ii) prayers ought to be uttered five times every day, (iii) the giving of, charity or alms, (iv) fasting, and (v) the pilgrimage to Mecca. In the Qur’an, these laws are recorded a book which have all revelations of Muhammad.
Muhammad believed that God had selected him to be the last prophet. Abraham & Moses were two prophets. So too was Jesus Christ. But Muhammad said that Jesus was not the son of God. According to Muhammad, the Jews & Christians had strayed from the true faith, a faith that Muhammad believed he had had discovered to him by the angel Gabriel. It was his task to change them and bring them back to the true word.
In spite of the faith of his flock, Muhammad met with dissatisfaction as he preached his religion at Mecca. Jews & Christians failed to alter. His faith was entirely rejected by the authorities at Mecca. It must be obvious that the merchants at Mecca would have objected to Muhammad's belief ¨C in fact a profession of faith ¨C that men must be generous with their wealth. The authorities attempt to silence Muhammad and so he left for the northern city of Medina in the year of 622. The journey to Medina ¨C the hegira (the "breaking of former ties") ¨C became the true foundation of the Islamic faith. The hegira also marks the starting of the Islamic calendar.
At Medina, Muhammad built an Islamic community. As well the work of faith, Muhammad also specified that at his community there would be harsh rules governing diet;, gambling , wine and usury were prohibited; he built up his own legal system; and forbidden infanticide. After settling in Medina, his followers start to attack the caravans on their way to and from Mecca. By 624 his army was powerful sufficient to conquer Mecca and make it the center of the new religion.
Muhammad died in the year of 632 and his death presented his followers with a series of profound troubles. He never claimed to be of divine origin yet his loyal followers saw no cause to separate religious & political authority. Submitting to the will of Allah was no distinct than submitting to the will of Muhammad. Unluckily, Muhammad never announced a successor. Who would lead the faithful? Afterward his death, some of his followers chooses Abu Bakr, a wealthy merchant and Muhammad's father-in-law as caliph, or probably leader.
The Formative Period of Islam:
In the early 7th century, Muhammad & successive caliphs took up the Arabic tradition of making raids against their enemies. In the Qur'an, these called raids jihad ("striving in the means of the Lord"). The jihad was not carried out as a way to convert others for the simple cause that acts of conversion to the Islamic faith were voluntary. The Persians & a Byzantines were the first to sense the pressure of Arab raids. At Yarmuk in the year of 636, the Muslims had beaten the Byzantine army. Syria fell in the year of 640. A decade later on, the Muslims had conquered the whole Persian Empire. North Africa, Egypt and Spain (along with its center at Córdoba) were all conquered and under Muslim rule by the 720s. In the year of 732, a Muslim army was beaten at the Battle of Tours, & in Europe Muslim expansion came to an abrupt halt.
One of the major problems confronting the Islamic world was the alternative of caliph. While Muhammad's son-in-law was assassinated, Muawiyah became caliph. Muawiyah made the hereditary caliphate in his own family, therefore creating the Umayyad dynasty. One of the primary things Muawiyah did was to move the capital of the Muslim world from Medina to Damascus in Syria. Though, internal dissension over the caliphate built a split in Islam among the Shiites, or those who accepted the descendants of Ali only, Muhammad's son-in-law, the same as the true rulers, and the Sunnites, who claimed the descendants of the Umayyads were the true rulers. It split exists to this day.
In the 8th & 9th centuries, under the Abbasid caliphs, Islamic civilization entered in a golden age. Arabic, Persian, Byzantine and Indian cultural traditions were integrated. And while in Europe, learning appeared to be at its lowest point, the Muslims formed could be called a "high civilization." Gratitude of Muslim scholars, ancient Greek learning, attained from their contact with Byzantine scholars, was kept alive and was transferred eventually to the West in the 12th century and after. But not only did Muslim scholars protect the heritage of philosophy and Greek science, they added to it by writing commentaries and glosses, therefore adding to what eventually became the western intellectual tradition. During the Qur'an one can discover a strong emphasis on the behalf of knowledge in the Islamic faith. The Qur'an encourages Muslims to study and attain knowledge, stemming from, but not restricted to, the Muslim emphasis on knowing the unity of God. Since Muslims believe that Allah is all-knowing, they also trust that the human world's quest for knowledge leads to knowing of Allah further.
Today Islam is in conflict, among western secular culture & traditional Islamic culture. The expansion of Islamic Fundamentalism is an effort to reach back to the glories of Islamic history. Several Fundamentalist (Muslim) ask themselves the question, If Islam is religion of Allah, why are we being beaten by the West (United States) and Israel. The fundamentalist sees the complexity with the failure of Islamic nations to live as the Quran commands. This view of not living the life needed by Allah, as denoted in the Quran and traditions and thus being defeated by the West, is the glow of fundamentalism. Today in Islam there is a struggle among moderate & fundamentalist ideology.
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