Tuesday, July 26

The Button Box & the Early Islamic Empires

 "It helps to remember those who hurt and betray as numerous and deep as the sands outside holy Mecca.  And like the sands, they are beneath us - though they may burns the soles of our feet.  The burning serves as a reminder to travel as quickly and light over these threats as possible on the way to our blessed destination.  Do not let enemies, or the foolish, distract or dissuade you.  Keep your eyes on the right path." ~The Button Box

A Bit of Islamic History

Islam is the third of the major monotheistic faiths, meaning those whose followers believe in one God.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all trace their origins to the teachings of prophets who received revelations passed down as holy scriptures.

Based on the teachings of the Qur’an, the holy scripture of Islam, Muslims trace the origins of their faith to the first prophet, Adam.
  Though it was said that God had revealed himself to Adam, Islamic belief is that no one has seen God, not even Prophet Muhammad.  The Qur’an teaches that God repeatedly sent prophets to humankind with the same basic message of belief in One God and of the necessity to worship and act according to strong moral standards.  This religion teaches that earlier scriptures were sometimes lost or altered, or were superseded by later revelation.  Therefore, Muhammad, the final prophet, completed God’s message to humankind.

The Prophet Muhammad is said to have been a man born about 570 CE in the city of Mecca, a caravan stop on a trade route that ran along the western side of the Arabian Peninsula between Yemen and the Mediterranean region.  Orphaned at an early age, Muhammad spent his youth in the care of his socially prominent grandfather and uncle.  He worked as a caravan trader, which led to his marriage to the wealthy widow Khadijah.  He was known for wisdom and honesty.  

At about the age of forty, after years of spiritual searching and meditation, he reported receiving a revelation through the Angel Gabriel in a mountain cave outside the city.  These revelations continued for the following twelve years, between about 610 and 622 CE.  The revelations were transmitted by Muhammad to his followers in Arabic, and they were memorized and committed to writing during his lifetime.  These words were known as the Qur’an. Muslims believe this text to be the direct word of God, whose name in Arabic is Allah.

The word Islam means “peace through submission to God.”  The Qur’an teaches that all prophets were Muslim in the sense that they were models of submission to God and seekers of truth.  Islamic teachings lay out a way of life based on moral values and commandments.

The Five Pillars of Islam are:
  • To testify to belief in One God and the prophethood of Muhammad
  • To pray five obligatory prayers each day
  • To fast from dawn to sunset annually during the month of Ramadan
  • To pay annual obligatory charity
  • To make the pilgrimage to the city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime

A Bit of Umayyad History

The Umayyad dynasty was the first great Muslim dynasty to rule the Arab kingdom. Before the Umayyads, Islamic rule was non-centralized. The Umayyads, headed by Abū Sufyān, were a largely merchant family and were centered at Mecca. In the first Muslim civil war, there was a struggle for the caliphate role, with a murder of the third caliph and then the emergence of Muʿāwiyah, then governor of Syria, as the first Umayyad caliph.

Umayyad rule was divided between two branches of the family: the Sufyānids (reigned 661–684) and the Marwanids (reigned 684–750). The Sufyānids centralized authority in Damascus, and the Syrian army became the basis of their strength. Muslim rule expanded to Khorāsān, garrison cities were founded as bases for expeditions into Central Asia and northwestern India, and the invasion of northwestern Africa was begun. They also conducted campaigns against Constantinople (Istanbul), which were directed against the Christians. Civil war brought Sufyānid rule to an end in the year 684.

Under ʿAbd al-Malik - of the Marwanid line - the Umayyad caliphate continued to expand. Muslim armies continued to invade India and Central Asia. Arabic became the official state language, Arabs replaced Persian and Greek officials, and new Arabic coins replaced the former money system. Communications improved with the introduction of a regular post service from Damascus to the provincial capitals, and architecture flourished during this time.

Decline began in the year 717 with the disastrous defeat of the Syrian army by the Byzantine emperor Leo III. New financial and political reforms placed all Muslims on the same footing, regardless of ethnicity, and this led to financial crisis and feuds between southern (Kalb) and northern (Qays) Arab tribes. Eventually, with the dilution of their armies from expansion on so many different fronts (France, Anatolia, Central Asia, and North Africa), the Umayyad dynasty came to an end.

The last Umayyad, Marwān II (reigned 744–750), was defeated at the Battle of the Great Zab River. Members of the Umayyad house were hunted down and killed, but one of the survivors, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, escaped and established himself as a Muslim ruler in Spain, founding the dynasty of the Umayyads in Córdoba......this story is where we find ourselves in 'The Button Box.'

A Bit of Abbasid History

The Abbasid caliphate overthrew the Umayyad caliphate in 750 CE, and reigned until it was destroyed by the Mongol invasion in 1258.  Their leadership was also based on dynasty, but their social hierarchy had a more inclusive government, and it was located in the capital city of Baghdad. The distinction between Arab Muslims and non-Arab Muslims diminished, with Persian culture exerting a greater influence than religion.

The Abbasids promoted commerce, industry, arts, and science.  During their rule, Islamic art and culture flourished, and this was the beginning of the 'golden age.' They are famous for inaugurating the Islamic golden age. Religious scholars developed systems of law, and many people converted to Islam, for a variety of reasons, one of which was because there were heavy taxes levied on NON-Muslims. 

Instead of focusing on North Africa, the Mediterranean, and southern Europe (like the previous empire), the caliphate turned eastward.  With the rise of the Abbasids, the base for influence in the empire became international, emphasizing membership in the community of believers rather than Arab nationality.  Spanning over four thousand miles, the Abbasid empire was impressive but difficult to maintain.  As people converted to Islam, tax revenue collected from non-Muslim subjects dwindled.

A Bit of Fatimid History

The Fatimid dynasty tried unsuccessfully to oust the Abbasid caliphs as leaders of the Islamic world.  This group took its name from Fāṭimah, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, from whom the Fatimids claimed descent.  They were a rival religious movement—the Shiʿi branch of Islam—and dedicated to the overthrow of the existing religious and political order in all of Islam.  They were, in the eyes of their followers, the rightful caliphs, both by descent and by divine choice the legitimate heads of the universal Islamic state and community. 

For more than a century, the Fatimid rulers pursued their goals.  At times they were compelled to reach some agreement with their Sunni rivals, because of things like war on the frontiers, trouble in the Mediterranean, unrest at home or in the provinces, but such arrangements were always temporary.  The caliph was not only an emperor: he was also an imām—the spiritual head and embodiment of God’s infallible guidance to humankind.  In the Fatimid state, religion became a third branch of the government, together with the traditional military and leadership establishments, as an institutionalized state religion.

One reason the dynasty began to decline was their adoption of a religious doctrine that was unacceptable to the Sunni majority.  Then, the coming of the Crusaders indirectly sealed its fate, for in the great 12th-century contest between Islam and Christendom, there was no room for dissension on the Muslim side.  The end of this dynasty came in 1171 when the last caliph died.  Saladin became the real master of Egypt, and the Fatimid caliphate was formally abolished.

  • The Button Box
    • After Jewish fifth-grader Ava and her Muslim best friend Nadeem are called hateful names at school, Ava's Granny Buena rummages in her closet and pulls out a glittering crystal button box. It's packed with buttons that generations of Ava's Sephardic ancestors have cherished. With the help of Granny's mysterious cat Sheba, Ava and Nadeem discover that a button from the button box will take them back in time. Suddenly, they are in ancient Morocco, where Nadeem's ancestor, Prince Abdur Rahman, is running for his life. Can Ava and Nadeem help the prince escape to Spain and fulfill his destiny, creating a legendary Golden Age for Muslims, Jews and Christians?
  • Rayan's Adventure Learning the Five Pillars of Islam
  • Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman Caliphates


Make / Do

  • caliph
  • caliphate
  • Mecca
  • Mohammed
  • Quran
  • Shia
  • Sunni
  • mosque
  • Besides conquest by armies, how was Islam spread?
  • Which of the aforementioned empires treated its non-Muslims subjects most fairly?  Why did you choose this one?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.