Introduction - This page provides an overview of the history of Islam and the Arabs, which is a great part of the history of the Middle East. The subject covers more than twelve centuries, about a dozen empires and a vast territory, stretching from Spain in the west to the islands of Indonesia in the Pacific Ocean. It is impossible to provide a comprehensivetreatment of the history of Islam in a brief space. However, I have attempted to present here, and in related pages that are linked or planned, a concise (relatively) treatment of the essential facts that everyone should know about Islam, the Arabs and the Middle East. Islam arose in the Arabian peninsula, and its history and rites are connected with it. This history is meant to be read inconjunction with the complementary article about the history of Arabia.
The Rise of Islam - Muhammad, a prophet astute in statecraft and military strategy and an inspired statesman, changed the history and destiny of Arabia and of much of the world. He was born about 570 to the Banu Hashim family, reputable merchants in the tribe of Quraysh in Mecca. According to tradition, he was a penniless orphanwho married Khadija, the widow of a rich merchant, somewhat older than himself. He probably engaged in trade, and is said by some to have had responsibilities in connection with the Ka'aba stone. When he was about forty years old he began preaching a new religion, eventually meeting the opposition of Meccan oligarchy. Initially, Muhammad made few converts and many enemies. His first convertswere Khadija, Ali (who became the husband of Fatima), and Abu-Bakr.
The Hijra - From about 620, Mecca became actively hostile, since much of its revenues depended on its pagan shrine, the Kaaba, under the protection of the Quraysh, and an attack on the existing Arab religion was an attack on the prosperity of Mecca. Following the death of Khadija in 621, Muhammad married eleven other women.Tradition relates that he and his followers were invited to the town of Yathrib by Jewish and Christian tribes after they were no longer welcome in Mecca. In 622, the first year of the Muslim calendar, they set out on the Hijra, the emigration to Yathrib, later renamed Medina, meaning "the city" where Muhammad concluded a treaty with the tribes of Medina. A large number of Medinans, known asthe Ansar (helpers), were attracted to Muhammad's cause. According to several sources, early versions of Islamic practice included Jewish practices such as the fast of Yom Kippur and prayer to Jerusalem, perhaps influenced by the Jews of Medina. These were eventually dropped, and the direction of prayer was turned to Mecca.
Battle of Badr - In 624 Muhammad learned of a war party of theQuraysh, who were setting out to Medina to avenge the apparently accidental death of one Hadrami, a relative of the leader of the Quraysh. Muhammad and his army, aided by the Ansar auxiliaries, rode out to meet them at Badr. This battle, related in the Quran, is often called the first battle of Islam, but in fact there had been several skirmishes before Badr. Despite the numerical superiority ofthe Qurayshites, the Battle of Badr was apparently a clear victory for Muhammad. The Quraysh lost about 70 warriors and leaders and 70 captured (these "round" numbers may be historical conventions) out of a fighting force of about a thousand.
Battle of Uhud -The Qurayshites prepared better for the battle of Uhud, fought in the following year. They gathered a force of some 3,000 men,including a strong cavalry contingent led by Khalid Ibn Walid, later a famous general of Islam. The battle was fought in the vally of Aqiq, north of Yathrib (Medina) in the shadow of Mount Uhud. Though the Muslims had the initial advantage, they fell to looting the camp of the Meccans and abandoned a good archery position in the high ground. This allowed Khalid ibn Walid to save the day for the...