Here’s part two of an essay on the historical emergence of Islam. Part I HERE
The Bedouin lifestyle, the pre-Islamic religious make-up of the peninsula, and the Bedouin penchant for language all helped to pave the way for the message of Muhammad. The close societal bonds of Islam cemented support around the cause of Allah. This galvanization led to the spread of Islam. As the belief in Muhammad’s prophecy grew, he moved into the role of statesman establishing a grip over the region previously not seen. In A.D. 624, Muhammad led a group of three hundred Muslims to his first decisive military victory over a group of one thousand men from Mecca (Hitti 116). It was at this moment that Islam passed from being a religion to being a state in itself (Hitti 117). This led to two decisive things: Islam became Arabianized, and it became nationalized breaking completely away from any connection to either Judaism and Christianity (Hitti 118). This religion would now be the religion of the Arabs. It would be their own. Muhammad was not the first who tried to join the tribes of the region into a unified nation. A group called the Kindah had previously attempted to unite the tribes of Arabia which helped set a clear precedent for Muhammad (Hitti 86). But where the Kindah failed, Muhammad succeeded. Muhammad’s simple, religious and unifying message tapped into the unique characteristics of the region. As soon as he had military victories behind him, many other outlying regions would quickly fall under the new Islamic influence.
By the time of Muhammad’s birth, the southern part of Arabia was already in decline as Romans controlled shipping in the Red Sea (Hitti 64-65). It is easy to see how the Roman presence could have persuaded the outer regions of the peninsula to succumb to the pressure to accept Islam. For in doing so, they would be paying tribute to other Arabs not foreigners. Many tribes joined the new Islamic state for convenience sake (Hitti 119). It would have been more convenient to become part of an Islamic Arab brotherhood than to fight for independence and possibly be at the mercy of other non-Islamic peoples such as the Romans, the Jews or the Christians. The Medina based Islamic state would be satisfied as long as the newly acquired territories would make a profession of faith to Allah and agree to pay a poor tax (Hitti 119). Peace came to the peninsula through the unifying nature of Islam.
Likewise, the spread of Islam into the more western regions of the peninsula was often due to the fact that the Semite people of the region could identify themselves more with Arabs than with other foreign entities they came in contact with (Hitti 143). In the century following Muhammad’s death, Islam spread quickly through many different military campaigns into much of western Asia and North Africa. But as Arab historian Philip Hitti states, it was Arabianism that triumphed first before Muhammadism (145). This demonstrates a crucial point. The cultural message that the conquerors brought was perhaps at first more important than the religious message. The outlying regions were happy to be part of Islam for the economic benefits if not the religious ideals (Hitti 144). Practicality was often the linchpin swaying cities or regions to pay tribute.
Islam certainly became a rallying cry of the region and a unifying voice that previously did not exist in western Asia and North Africa. The Arabs were ready and receptive to the message of Muhammad because of the cultural, religious, and economic characteristics of the time period. Certainly Muhammad was a man of great influence and unique insight whose religious zeal fortunately landed him in the right place at the right time.
Hitti, Philip K. History of the Arabs. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002. Print.