When considering the question of the Prophet’s success in the Arab Conquests there are various factors that must be taken into consideration. These factors shape the success, give reason for the rapidity of the spread and illustrate why Arabia was so responsive to his message. Factors such as the state of Arabia and its pagan tribes, recent historic events and the dissatisfaction of the peoples, shape this drastic and historic change in the area. Arabia was in a constant state of war due mainly to the power struggle between the Sasanian and Byzantine empires; the emperors spoke different languages and believed in other religions than their peoples. There was little loyalty and it did not much matter to the folks under which rule they lived. The lack of community, a sense of unity between the various tribes in Arabia and multiple wars were predominant factors that made way for the imminent success of Muhammad in the Arab Conquests. From the time of the Prophet’s first revelation in 610 to the death day of the Prophet in 632, Arabia had undergone a drastic and, for such time limitations, incredible changes.
Starting with the geographical aspects it must be elaborated in context how the state of Arabia, the birthplace of Muhammad, was functioning and what its beliefs were pre-Islam. It must also be mentioned that in comparison to the rest of the Middle East, Arabia was considered fairly primal. It lacked any form of government or state policies as every clan was totally independent and had its own rules and leaders, called Shaykh. Such leaders acted as mediators to disputes and needs of the tribe. The tribes mostly lived off pasturage as opposed to agriculture, excluding the harams that were implemented on travel routes, in oasis and in junctures to neighbouring areas. These served as a common point for economic, social and political trade, as well as worship. Arabia was home to various pagan tribes, including the Banu Hashim into which the prophet was born, spread over the area in no apparent kind of structure.
Thus, it is fair to say that Arabia was a socially and culturally less developed area than the rest of the Middle East. Secondly, Arabia was subject to numerous power struggles, which fragmented it severely. From local tribal wars, to clashes between Yemeni, Nabatean and Roman kingdoms (sixth century BC – 271 AD ) to finally the main exhaustion of the region in the early seventh century – wars between Sasanian and Byzantine empires. Only the rise of Mecca in the late sixth century as a centre for economic trade and pilgrimage, could establish a semi treaty between the leading tribe called Quraysh, Byzantines and Bedouins to ensure safe passage of goods, which was beneficial to all.
Mecca won recognition as a commercial and political influence in Arabia. However, most of Arabia was still home to incompatible Bedouin communities, which opposed each other in political, social and religious views. This resulted in many conflicts and portrayed, once again, Arabia as a torn and unstable area. Having illustrated the state of Arabia, it portrays “a world waiting for a guide” around the time of the rise of Islam. A new form of existence, social trend and way of life was to be largely appreciated by rivalling tribes.
The main documents of Islam, which emerged or deal at the time of the Prophet, include the Qur’an, a divine revelation of God’s words through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad himself around 610 and the hadiths, traditions and sayings of and about the Prophet. In 613 Muhammad first started to publicly preach and attracted early converts of mostly socially and economically weakened classes to whom this monotheistic message offered salvation from the falling order in Mecca. The sheer force of Muhammad’s inspiration and beauty of speech, as he was illiterate, seemed to persuade people as well as raise universal opposition. Muhammad and his followers shortly became a threat to the Quraysh clan whose pagan religions were challenged by his message, that there was one God only.
Muhammad was still able to preach, protected by his uncle Abu Talib and his tribe the Banu Hashim and flourished as a leader of the community. The Quraysh declared Muhammad as a madman and discredited his preaching, boycotting his motions. When it became apparent that his word was no longer considered reliable and that he was not gaining more converts, Muhammad was in search of a political base that could shelter him and his followers from the attacks of ridicule and harassments. This base would act as a home for the community. The Prophet’s forceful and leading persona was attractive to solve Medina’s anarchic feuding. The year 622, after the pledge of al-‘Aqaba to defend Muhammad, is known as the most dramatic event in Muslim history and the first year in the Islamic calendar. This year marks the hijra, the migration and the entry into a community of Muslims.
Due to no existing leadership or effective rule in Medina and through the portrait of an “Arab Elite” most communities wanted to pertain to, as this included fiscal and job protection advantages, remaining pagans learned Arabic and soon converted to Islam. Jewish clans that rejected the Qur’an and Muhammad as a Messenger of God were either executed or forced to exile, their properties taken into claim. Not only had Muhammad, in 10 years, managed to attract a large amount of converts, but he had also created a base for his Brotherhood, called the umma. Here, the fellow Muslims shared the same beliefs and they were given clear structure by the five pillars of Islam. The Zakat, almsgivings, were a way for everybody to assume responsibility for their brothers within the community and support the less fortunate.
In addition, Muhammad changed social norms by giving the patriarchal family a greater importance and rewarding women and children with more rights. Furthermore, he implemented rules for fair business transactions. Thus, Medina was an exemplary state, which prided itself with patriarchal values and a confederation for political and economic legislations. The Umma brotherhood integrated individuals, clans, cities, disparate peoples and ethnic groups into a community under a common law and political authority. Creating this Muslim community, consisting of the early followers muhajeruun and Medinan converts ansar, and a monotheist religion alongside Judaism and Christianity was a vital accomplishment, which marked Muhammad as a man of great influence and importance for the Arab Conquests.
Having established a foundation for Islam, Muhammad proceeded with spreading Islam throughout Arabia. At the battle of Badr in 624, the Prophet’s army attacked an important Meccan caravan and claimed victory. The battle described as “ a sign of divine favour” , earned Muhammad a renowned reputation around Arabia and marked an important defeat of Mecca since the hijra. This was succeeded by two more battles, Uhud in 625 and Khandaq in 627, which both had rather positive outcomes in extending his influence and eliminating further Jewish clans.
Finally, at al-Hudaybiya, in 628, while Meccans intercepted Medinan pilgrims, a truce between Muhammad and the Quraysh was established enabling Muslims to pilgrim to the Ka’ba. This was the first sign of recognition of defeat by the Meccans. Merely two years later, in 630, Muhammad gained complete rule over Mecca without resistance and managed to claim the Ka’ba as the holiest shrine of Islam.
Through his divine revelations, his preachings and his persuading character, Muhammad was all around respected and worshiped as the Messenger of God. He made his “religious visions operate in the body of a whole society” enabling a complete social habitual change in Arabia. Through tactic moves such as the hijra, the building of the first Muslim confederation in Medina and the Islamization of larger parts of Arabia he laid out the first step for Islam.
Needless to say that without his effective leadership, it seems unthinkable that the communities of Arabia would have been able to act in such unison. Muhammad did not only perform as a religious messenger but also as a political leader, unifying the tribes and clans under one belief and a set of rules. He formed such a powerful bond between the umma that even after his death in 632, the Muslim Caliphates continued to spread Islam and conquered virtually the entire Middle East, parts of southern Spain, India and Northern Africa. Muhammad’s enormous influence in the success of the Arab Conquests and as the Messenger of God in the rise of Islam is indisputable.
1.A History of Islamic Societies – Ira M. Lapidus 1988
2.A History of the Arab Peoples – Albert Hourani 1991
3.The Arab Conquests – Kennedy
4.What do we know about Muhammad – Patricia Crone 10 June 2008 5.Muhammad and Jenghiz Khan – Khazanov 1993