From its point of origin in Arabia, Islam developed into a global civilization that eventually encompassed large portions of the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Based upon the teachings of the prophet Mohammad, the Islamic religion was based upon several universal principles—a feature that attracted diverse ethnic groups to the faith. Although initially shunned by the nomadic Berber tribes in Arabia, Islam was eventually accepted in the Middle East; it served as the core of several Islamic empires, including the powerful Umayyads and Abbasids. However, despite the purported religious homogeneity of Islam, the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties were punctuated by religious discord and political conflicts.
In this unit, we will examine the main tenets of Islam and consider why so many diverse people adopted the faith. We will also study the rise and fall of the Umayyad and Abbasid empires and examine the reasons behind the only major schism in Islam—the Sunni-Shi’a split.