Students will focus on the following key ideas
  • How did Islam spread?
  • Growth of Trade within the Islamic world
  • Urbanization and Islam
  • Architecture throughout the Islamic world
  • Examples of Syncretism and Islam
  • Reactions to Islam.


The expansion of the Islamic Empire began the day of the hijrah, the flight of the Prophet Muhammed from Mecca to Medina. Muhammad was to return to Mecca several years later with a 10,000 man army, all fighting under the banner of Islam. Mecca was captured peacefully, and within several decades the whole Arabian peninsula soon followed. Following the conversion of Bedouin Arabia to the Islamic faith, the Muslims looked to spread Islam beyond the limits of their own peninsula.

During the era of the Rashidun, the first four caliphs following the prophet Mohammed, expansion of Islam went westward until modern-day Libya and eastwards to engulf modern-day Iran. The empire also stretched as far north as modern-day Turkey and as far south as the tip of Aden in Yemen. Using the eurocentric ideology most historians use today, the area the Rashidun conquered can be described as most, if not all, of the Middle East.




This visual displays the expansion of the Islamic empire up until the Umayyad dynasty. As we can see, the expansion of Islam throughout the remainer of the Middle East was accomplished by the Rashidun, the first four caliphs following the prophet Muhammad.
This visual displays the expansion of the Islamic empire up until the Umayyad dynasty. As we can see, the expansion of Islam throughout the remainer of the Middle East was accomplished by the Rashidun, the first four caliphs following the prophet Muhammad.
Expansion_of_Islam.jpg












Brown - Expansion under The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), 612-632 A.D.
Light Red - Expansion during the Rashidun caliphs, 632-655 A.D.

The areas outside of the Arabian Peninsula, areas that were still part of the Middle East, were conquered by a succession of four caliphs. All of these caliphs were companions of the prophet and attained the caliph position not based upon family lineage, but rather on the consensus of a group of religious and scientific scholars, the ulama.

The Ridda Wars, insurrections that arose following the death of prophet Mohammed, were put to rest by the first calph, Abu Bakr. After these internal divisions subsided, the Rashidun were able to reignite and continue the expansion of the Islamic empire. Under newly unified Bedouin forces and the leadership of cunning generals, Islam was able to spread outside of Arabia with amazing speed and efficiency.

Islam spread north, west, and east of Arabia through military conquests composed of newly united Bedouin troops. These Bedouin warriors were drawn to these new conquests by the prospect of advancing their personal economic standings. The promise of receiving a share of the booty inspired many Bedouins to go fight under the banner of Islam.The weaknesses and internal divisions of the neighboring empires (Byzantine and Sassanid) were also major causes for the quick expansion of Islam through the Mesopotamian and Syrian regions.

The Islamic empire, following the conquest of Persia and Byzantium, flourished with trade, the arts, and newly creative architecture.
The dhow was a certain type of ship that played an important role in the spread of Islam (see paragraph for more)
The dhow was a certain type of ship that played an important role in the spread of Islam (see paragraph for more)


During the era of the Rashidun, and even following that, the Islamic economy flourished and prospered. Trade would occur between the golden grain fields of Egypt and the rich river-valleys of Mesopotamia (Persia). Arabian ships called dhows dominated the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Their seemingly simplistic construction was very efficient and reliable, and they moved only by the force of the winds. These ships were able to revolutionize naval trade in the Middle East through their swiftness and manuerverability. They were able to travel much faster, therefore trading goods and spreading ideas much quicker than before. Trade specifically of high luxury products for the elite classes brought in great profits. These profits were then reinvested in other commercial causes, such as the purchase of land and the expansion of infrastructure. In addition to goods, these ships also spread Sufis and Muslim holy men to far regions of the Muslim empire. Because Islam was mostly spread by these men, these ships were fundamental in Islamic expansion.

The Islamic empire also served as a middle man between Asia and Europe, connecting the Silk Road in Asia with the its European counterpart. During the beginning of the Abbasid era, there was a great boom in urban expansion. Great cities began emerging in the Middle East, and the cities of Baghdad of Damascus expanded more than ever. The boom could be tied into the empire's further involvement in the Afro-Eurasian trading network, which had fallen since the decline of Han China. After becoming more involved in this trade network, cities could emerge along the trade routes connecting the east and the west. The growth of these Abbasid cities also paralleled the increase in handicraft production. Public and private businesses were establishing a commercial base with a very wide range of products for all types of social classes. Glassware, jewlery, and tapestries were available for the upper class while the lower class enjoyed practical tools such as astrolabes and carpets.

Reactions to Islam varied throughout the Middle East. In what was originally Byzantium, certain members of the Christian sect (the Copts and the Nestorians) actually supported Islamic conquerers because they displayed more tolerance for their religion and also taxed them less heavily than the Byzantines themselves.
During the Ummayad dynasty, the conquered people of Persia and Syria began to convert to Islam dispite there being no advantage to doing so. Actually, the Ummayads in fact discouraged mass conversions because that would mean money lost in jizya taxes (taxes on non-muslims). The conquered peoples, especially the people of the book (Christians and Jews), easily accepted Arab rule because their religions were tolerated and their communities were left politically and socially in tact. As Islam spread to the Zoroastrian of Persia or the Hindus of India, this religious tolerance was streched to accomodate all of these different relgions.