B A C K G R O U N D
Islam first grew up in Arabia. The Arabs were organized into tribes which
formed two distinct groupsnorthern and southern. By 100 B. C., the
southern tribe had become powerful enough to establish several Arab
kingdoms. The northern tribes, led by the Quraysh tribe, gained control of
the Hejaz (now a province of Saudi Arabia). They settled in Mecca on the
main trade highway and established a powerful commercial city republic. At
that time the Arabs worshiped nature and idols. Their chief gods were Allah,
Uzza, and Manat. Allahs chief shrine, the Kaaba, stood in Mecca. Mecca
attracted religious pilgrims, traders, and settlers from all of Arabia and from
neighboring countries. Jews and Christians mixed freely with the Arabs, and,
in time, converted some of them to Judaism and Christianity.
Mohammed, whose family belonged to the Quraysh tribe was born in
A.D. 570 and grew up in Mecca. He was repelled by idol worship. At the age
of 25 he began to wander into the desert to contemplate and pray. He
received revelations from an angel on Mount Hira. He became convinced
that there was only one God and that He had revealed Himself in the Bible.
Mohammed felt that God had called him as His prophet to destroy idolatry
and to bring the Arabs to worship one God.
At the age of 40, Mohammed began to preach the new faith of Islam
which was gradually being revealed to him on his sojourns in the desert. The
Meccans, afraid and angered at Mohammeds preachings, plotted to kill
him. In A.D. 622, Mohammed and his followers escaped to Medina, a town
near Mecca, whose leaders had already accepted him as a prophet and leader.
Mohammeds flight to Medina is known as the Hegira and dates the
beginning of the Islamic era. The Islamic calendar is dated from this
In A.D. 628 the Meccans agreed to let Mohammed and his followers
make their pilgrimages to the Kaabaa sacred shrine. They believed this was
where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Ishmael.
Mohammed made several raids against Mecca. In A.D. 630 he returned
and conquered the city. In A.D. 632 Mohammed led a pilgrimage to Mecca
(Makkah). He declared I have perfected your religion and completed my
favors for you. Three months later he fell ill in Medina and died.
After Mohammeds death, rulers, called Caliphs (successors), led the
Moslems. The first four Caliphs and several Arab generals were responsible
for the first major expansion of the Moslem world. This expansion resulted
from both political and religious motives. It represented the first stirrings of
Arab nationalism, which received its drive through the unifying force of
In the years A.D. 632750 various Caliphs led the Arab Moslems to new
victories and Islam spread into the Byzantine areas of Syria, Palestine,
Spain, Iraq, Egypt, and North Africa. They fought the Turkish tribes in
Central Asia, moved across the Indus River in India, and reached the borders
of China. In A.D. 711 a Moslem army crossed the Pyrenaes mountains and
marched through southern France but Charles Martel turned them back in
732 at Tours. Many historians regard this battle as one of the most important
ever fought because it determined that Christianity rather than Islam would
dominate Europe. Beginning about A.D. 750, conversions to Islam increased
until Islam became the predominant religion in most of the conquered lands.