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Religion Library: Islam

Missions and Expansion

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

In its first one thousand years, Islam spread to nearly every part of the globe. In places as different as Mombasa and Brunei, local languages, customs, and cultures absorbed Islamic culture into their own authentic histories and rhythms. They embraced the sunnah, or way of life of the Prophet, and the communal rhythms of the Five Pillars of Islam, without a loss of identity. Islam allows for an almost dizzying variety of opinions and practices, and this is due in no small part to the influence of the Murjiyah, an attitude of tolerance developed amidst early Islamic conflict.

The assassination of the third caliph Uthman in 656 led to the fitna, the first civil war in Islam. There were many competing sides in that war, including groups of secessionists known as the Khariji, or "those who went out." The Khariji insisted that the community follow very strict norms in deciding who was a true Muslim, and who should be excommunicated. In response, some Sunni and Shi'i Muslims adopted a highly tolerant stance that not only accepted deviation from strict Islamic norms, but made a positive effort to accommodate differences. These people were called the Murjiyah, or procrastinators, from the Arabic word irja', or postponement. The Murjiyah believed in postponing the judgment of a person's worthiness, leaving it to God on the Last Day.

 

Some competing sides in the fitna (first Islamic civil war)
Khariji ("those who went out")
Strict norms for determining who is Muslim
Murijuyah ("procrastinators")
Tolerant norms and acceptance of differences; defer another's judgment to God

 

In their view, a Muslim was simply a person who recognized the community as Muslim, and professed the shahadah, confessing that "there is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet." It may be that this highly tolerant formula of the Murjiyah eased the spread of Islam. In many ways it accounts for Islam's lasting presence in so many different places.

In the 7th and 8th centuries, within just a few generations of the Prophet Muhammad's death, Islam spread rapidly both east and west, in part due to the power vacuum created by the long war between the Byzantine and Persian empires. In the west, Arab armies conquered Jerusalem in 638, and controlled Syria, Palestine, and Egypt by 641. Highly skilled troops recruited from Syria conquered north Africa within the next fifty years, and north African troops conquered al-Andalus (Spain), in the early 8th century. The western expansion of Islam was halted in Tours, France by the troops of Frankish King Charles "The Hammer" Martel. To the east, the Persian Empire virtually collapsed, allowing Islamic conquerors to accomplish a swift eastern expansion, reaching Afghanistan in the 8th century.

The Islamic World expansion, 622-750
     Expansion 622-632
     Expansion 632-661
     Expansion 661-750
 

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