A Primer on Islam: Historical Outline (Lesson 3 of 6)

If you have made it this far into the lessons, then as Muslims are keen to say, you will “seek knowledge even as far as China.” This third lesson is a quick outline that is designed to let you perceive both the major historical periods within Islam, as well as some of the details. With the amazing changes and challenges of power in the “Arab Spring” (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, …) there are significant historical events being played out at this moment.

A Primer on Islam

Lesson Three: Historical Outline

by Pastor Bob

 (Information drawn largely from Islam: An Introduction for Christians ed. by Paul Martinson, An Introduction to Islam by Gerhard Endress, and History’s Timeline: A 40,000 Year Chronology of Civilization by Jean Cooke, Ann Kramer and Theodore Rowland-Entwistle)


4th-6th cent. A.D. Arabian Peninsula in tension between Byzantines & Persians

{WORLD EVENTS: Constantine allows Christianity in Roman Empire (313); “Fall” of Rome to Goths, Germanic peoples originally from Scandinavia (476)}



c.a. 570 Birth of Muhammad

~610 First revelation given to Muhammad

~613 Beginning of Muhammad’s public ministry in Mecca

~620 Muhammad’s “Night Journey” to Jerusalem (17:1)

622 Hijra, Muhammad’s emigration to Medina (and beginning of Muslim calendar, 0 A.H. “After Hijra”)

630 Conquest of Mecca

632 Death of Muhammad

{WORLD EVENTS: St. Augustine lands in England (597); Vikings begin invading Ireland (620)}



632-634 Caliph Abu Bakr (Muhammad’s father-in-law elected by majority of Muslim community later called the Sunnis–followers of the Sunna. Supporters of Ali form what will become the Shi’ites. Under Bakr the Arabian tribes are unified there is conquest of Southern Mesopotamia and Syria.)

634-644 Caliph Umar (Conquest of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia)

636 Defeat of Persians & Byzantines

644-656 Caliph Uthman (Umayyad clan)

~653 Final edition of Qur’an

656-661 Caliph Ali (Son-in-law of Muhammad who some felt should have been the first caliph)



661-750 Caliphate of Umayyad dynasty (Damascus becomes capital)

674 Muslim armies reach Indus River

680 Martyrdom of Husayn (Son of Ali) at Kerbala (decisive event for Shi’ites)

691 Dome of the Rock built on temple mount in Jerusalem

711 Muslim armies enter Spain

715 Muslim’s conquer Turkestan

732 Battle of Tours victory stops Muslim advance into France



749-1258 Caliphate of Abbasid dynasty (Baghdad becomes capital)

751 Muslims defeat Chinese army in Central Asia & learn how to make paper from prisoners of war.

765 Isma’ilis group form from Shi’ites following the 7th imam

866 Death of Al-Kindi (first Arab Muslim philosopher)

873 Disappearance of the twelfth imam of the Shi’ites (And for the Shi’ites is awaited as the Mahdi at the end of time.,)

901-1174 Fatimid rule in North Africa (Shi’a Isma’ilis; named after Muhammad’s daughter, Fatimah)

935-939 Conquest of Genoa

950 Death of Al-Farabi (Muslim philosopher influenced by Greek thought)

972 Al-Azhar University founded in Cairo (One of the oldest schools in the world; named after a title given to Muhammad’s daughter, Fatimah: az-Zahra, “the brilliant or shining one.”)

1037 Death of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (Encyclopedic breadth of knowledge including philosophy, science and medicine)

1055 Recently converted Seljuk Turks take over Baghdad

1099 First Crusade (Christians conquered Jerusalem)

1111 Death of Al-Ghazzali (Bridged philosophy with mystical Sufism)

1166 Death of al-Jilani (founder of first Sufi brotherhood)

1187 Saladin (Salah ad-Din) regains Jerusalem

1196 Sultanate of Delhi (India) established

1198 Death of Ibn Rushd (Averroes) (Physician/Philosopher and interpreter of Aristotle to the West)

{WORLD EVENTS: Western Europe’s “Middle Ages”” (476-1453); Vikings discover Iceland (861); Sung Dynasty in China (960); Revival of Holy Roman Empire in West (962); Great Schism of Roman Empire (1054)}



1204 Conquest of the Mongols into Russia, Silesia, Anatolia, Persia, and India

1236 Fall of Cordoba through Ferdinand III

1250-1517 Mamluk regime in Egypt & Syria

1258 Sacking of Baghdad by Mongol Haluga Khan

1273 Death of Rumi (Persian mystic and poet. Sufi Mawlawiyya order “Whirling Dervishes” founded on his doctrine.)

{WORLD EVENTS: Magna Carta limiting power of English monarchy (1215)}



~1300 Marco Polo travels along “Silk Road” into China

1370-1405 Mongol leader Timur conquers parts of Central Asia, Persia and northern India.

1501 Safavid Empire forms in Persia making Shi’a dominant (Will define modern borders of largely Shi’a control: Iran and southern Iraq)

1517 Ottomans unify Near East: Egypt, Syria, Arabia

1520-66 Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent height of Ottoman power

1526 Ottomans conquer Hungary

1529 First siege of Vienna fails

1556 Moghul Kingdom in India

~1600 First Muslim state in the Indonesian Islands

{WORLD EVENTS: Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland (1306); End of 100 Years War (1453); Christopher Columbus discovers “New World” (1492)}



1683 Second siege of Vienna fails

1773 The British East India Company becomes an official government board of British rule in India

1798-1801 Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt

1803 Last region in India under Moghul rule comes under British control

1803-1818 First rule of the Wahhabites in Arabia

1858 India becomes British Colony

1914 Ottoman Empire joins the side of the central powers in WWI

1917 Balfour Declaration: British declare support of Jewish state in Palestine

1920 League of Nations gives Lebanon & Syria to France

1922 British-controlled “independent” Egypt

1922-32 Italy’s final conquest of Libya

1923 Proclamation of Turkish Republic

{WORLD EVENTS: America’s Declaration of Independence (1776)]



1924 Caliphate abolished in Turkey and last of Ottoman line.

1928 Founding of Muslim Brotherhood (Egyptian group seeking an Islamic government)

1932 Ibn Sa’ud declares the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia

1939-1945 World War II

1945 Indonesian republic formed from Dutch East Indies

1946 Lebanon and Syrian states gain freedom from French Control. Palestine and the Transjordan from British control.

1947 Muslim nation of Pakistan formed in its separation from India



1948 State of Israel formed in formerly British controlled Palestine (Creates massive Palestinian refugee situation)

1953 Egypt becomes a republic

1954-1962 Algerian war of independence from France

1967 Six-Day War in which Israel quickly defeated the combined Arab forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Israel then occupied the West Bank of the Jordan river, the rest of Jerusalem, the Gaza strip and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. A bitter defeat for Muslims.

1972 Palestinian Black September Organization kills 11 Israeli athletes at Munich games. Israel responds by bombing Palestinian refugee camps killing 200 to 500 people.

1973 Yom Kippur or Ramadan War in which the Egyptians and Syrians attacked Israel and though they gained little, Arab positions were strengthened. After war, Arab nations drive world oil prices up.

{WORLD EVENTS: Korean War (1950-1953); Vietnam War (1957-1975)}


1979 Iranian revolution creates Islamic Republic of Iran. American hostage crisis in Tehran. Soviet forces move into Afghanistan. An Islamic extremist group attacks the sanctuary at Mecca.

1980-88 Iran-Iraq war

1981 Anwar Sadat assassinated

1991 Gulf War in which Iraq invaded Kuwait and precipitated a combined Arab/Western force led by the U.S. to drive Iraqi forces back. Significantly for Muslims, Saudi Arabia was used as a staging area and would become a base for thousands of American troops.

1995 Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Prime Minister assassinated (Killed by right-wing Jewish extremist)

2001 America experienced its first significant terrorist act by Islamic extremists on U.S. soil (until then, the Oklahoma City bombing by American extremists had been the largest act of terrorism in the U.S.). U.S invades Afghanistan.

2003 U.S. invades Iraq

{WORLD EVENTS: Fall of Berlin Wall (1989)}

Pastor Bob is a pastor in San Diego. 

More in this series:

A Primer on Islam: The Basics (Lesson 1 of 6)

A Primer On Islam: Groups, Sects and Shari’a (Lesson 2 of 6)

A Primer on Islam: History Behind the News (Lesson 4 of 6)

A Primer on Islam: Muslims in Context (Lesson 5 of 6)

Primer on Islam: Muslims in North America (Lesson 6 of 6)

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  • Liadan

    A little bit more on history: Israel was never attacked by any Arab nations until 1973 (which was just a continuation of the 6 Day War.)

    In 1948, when the British left Palestine, Israel and some other Arab states moved into the Palestinian territory to see who controls it. Loss of Palestinian territory granted them by the UN is as much the fault of Arab States as Israel’s. This was not about destroying Israel.

    Black September was never a part of the PLO btw.

    The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has never been about religion. 30% of Palestinians were Christian and Jewish. I know many Palestinian Jews (no they are not Sephardim or Israeli Arabs). They distinctly identify as Palestinian and as Jews. Jews helped organize the PLO too. The conflict is about land, cultural identity, and self determination. That’s it.

  • Blind Boy Belvedere

    Typo alert: Pastor Bob, I see how it could maybe work as written, but I think you meant ‘formerly British’ where you wrote ‘formally British’. Thanks for the informative timeline and primer. No one teaches this in US schools unless you seek it out.

  • Having moved to China 3 months ago after living in Abu Dhabi for 3 years, I found the first line familiar 🙂

    I love these history lessons! God teaches us to love all. John, you and Pastor Bob follow that command… I so enjoy reading the posts that you both write.

  • Pastor Bob