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Religion Library: Islam

Missions and Expansion

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

A map of the Mughal Empire during various periods. Source: Public Domain

Tradition holds that Arab settlers and traders arrived in south Asia in the 7th century, and Muslim armies invaded western Afghanistan. Settlers and traders first populated the western port cities of south Asia. Muslim traders were soon found in all the port cities, east and west, and by the 10th century, Muslim merchants had settled in all the major cities of the interior while Muslim armies invaded from central Asia. Ismaili missionaries arrived in the 11th century, and an Islamic empire, the Mughal Empire, was in place in south Asia by the 16th century. Muslim settlers arrived in Nepal in the 17th century.

Little is known of the arrival of Islam in southeast Asia, but possibly it arrived with Muslim sailors as early as the 7th century, and slowly Muslims came to dominate maritime trade, once the lifeblood of the region. In a slow and not yet well-understood process, Islam acquired enormous significance in this part of the world. Today, nearly one-third of the world's Muslims live in southeast Asia, and Indonesia is home to the largest community of Muslims in the world.

World Muslim Population. Source: Public Domain

Legend has it that Muslim explorers from west Africa arrived in the Americas some time in the 10th century. If they did, they did not settle. There is some documentary evidence that Muslims were in Spanish America before 1550, and Muslims came to the Americas in the European conquests of the 16th to 18th centuries as sailors and slaves. It has even been estimated that Muslims might have comprised as much as 15-20 percent of the west African slaves brought to the American colonies.

In the 20th century, the dislocating effects of colonialism and global conflicts have created a Muslim diaspora, with many Muslims finding new homes in western Europe and the United States. Muslims began settling in Europe in the 20th century, first when former colonial troops found homes in the cities of the former colonial powers, and then after World War II as laborers, students, and professionals. More recently, political refugees have sought homes in Europe. Currently, European-born generations are coming of age.

Study Questions:
1.     What are the five pillars of Islam?
2.     What did the Murjiyah believe qualified one as a Muslim?
3.     How did Islam spread?
4.     Where are Muslims located in the world today? Was there ever a strong presence in the Americas?


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