Islam as a religion began with the message which was spread by Islam’s Prophet and God’s Messenger Muhammad ibn Abdallah in the Arabian Peninsula in 610 CE and which was contained in the Qur’an, God’s revelation to Muhammad. After Muhammad’s death in 632, his followers, the Muslims, embarked on successive waves of conquest of the Middle East and beyond; within less than a century, they had political and military control of virtually all the lands between India and Spain. The exercise of this control came from a state that was called the caliphate, its ruler being viewed as the caliph, or “successor,” to the Prophet Muhammad. In the first few decades, the state, based in Arabia, was simple and its ruler elected on the basis of merit. However, following the expansion, it soon turned into a complex, multi-national empire ruled by dynasties based in Syria first (the Umayyads, 661-750 CE) and then in Iraq (the Abbasids, 750-1258 CE). The caliphal system became weakened in the later ninth century, and by the tenth century, real power had moved to several local dynasties although the caliph remained the nominal head of the empire. The Abbasid empire and most of the local dynasties were overrun and practically destroyed by the Mongol invasion of the Middle East in 1258. That invasion ended not only the early phase of Islamic history, but also the “Golden Age” of Islamic civilization, which had been developing slowly from the beginning of this period. The “Golden Age” refers to the period when the varied contributions of Islamic civilization reached their peak in both the indigenous Islamic disciplines (such as Islamic law) and the newly imported disciplines of late antiquity (such as philosophy).
Avalon Foundation Distinguished Service Professor of Islamic Studies, Emerita, Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, University of Chicago
1. What is the connection between Islam and other monotheistic religions? List similarities and differences.
2. Describe and define Islamic culture during the Golden Age of Islam, and is it relevant today?
3. What were the defining characteristics and achievements of the Golden Age of Islam? List four major achievements.