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Religion Library: Islam

Missions and Expansion

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

 

The astounding early successes of Muslim invaders appeared to confirm the Quranic view that a society that submits to God will prosper, and they established Islamic rule in the conquered areas. The response of the conquered peoples varied. Many voluntarily converted to Islam, which conferred full citizenship in the empire. Christians and Jews were given full legal protection with no requirement to convert, but they were required to pay special taxes that were higher than the Islamic zakat tax. Those who worshipped local gods were forced to convert under threat of death.

Islam spread in a number of ways. Muslim armies brought Islam to north Africa and Spain, the Caucasus and the Middle Volga, Iran, central Asia and western Afghanistan. Merchants, traders, sailors, and missionaries brought Islam to the port cities of east Africa and southeast Asia, and traders carried Islam into the capital cities of the kingdoms of the Sahel, on the southern border of the Sahara. Immigrant Muslims settled in the port cities, and filled new towns and garrisons established in the expanding empires of Islam. Settlers, traders, and missionaries brought Islam to south Asia and Nepal.

In the 8th to 10th centuries, Muslim traders from North Africa crossed the Sahara to open new markets in the African kingdoms along the southernmost border of the desert, which the Muslims called the Sahel (Arabic, sahil) or "shore" of the desert. Muslim settlers arrived in the port cities of east Africa in the 8th century, including Ethiopia and Somalia. By the 11th century, traders had begun making their homes in the capital cities of the kingdoms of the Sahel, converting the kings to Islam, and ultimately the local populations.

Muslim armies arrived in central Asia as early as the 7th century, and invaded the Caucasus and the Middle Volga in the 7th century, while Muslim merchants and traders from the Middle East and central Asia arrived in China by land and sea. The progress of Islam's expansion in the Caucasus and central Asia was very slow. In the Caucasus, militarily powerful opponents and exceptional religious tolerance caused Islam to contribute to the region's religious diversity without displacing existing religions. Sunni and Shi'i Muslims both gained a foothold while many in the population remained Christian. Sufi orders popularized Islam in many areas. Central Asia also maintained exceptional religious diversity, with Muslim armies, missionaries, diplomats, and Sufi orders adding Islam to the region's character.

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.

 

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