Steven Apsley 1. Describe the system of succession for the leadership of Islam.

How did it originate and why? How did the schism occur, and what was its impact on Islam? After Muhammad died in 632, Islam faced the problem of choosing a new leader. Muhammad left no clear instructions on how to choose a new leader to lead the entire population of Muslims. This led to the schism of the Muslims, because some believed in one way of picking the caliph, and the others believed in another way. The succession system even today differs based on what sect of Islam you believe in. Ultimately, the schism weakened Islam overall, and evidence of that is still apparent, even today. When Muhammad died after a short-lived fight with a disease, there was confusion as to who should lead the Muslims. No one knew who should be leader, and everyone realized that no one besides Muhammad would be able to hear revelations from god because Muhammad had been the “last prophet” according to Islamic belief. In less than 24 hours after his death, a group of Median leaders decided that Abu Bakr should lead them. Abu was one of Muhammad’s most devout followers, and the birth father of Muhammad’s favorite wife, A’isha. Abu immediately began to confirm Muhammad’s teachings, promoting the Five Pillars of Islam, and expanding Muslim territory and belief. He also ordered the Islamic followers to devise a book containing Muhammad’s teachings. This book was created from scraps of teachings that people had recorded during his life and was finished in 650, and called the Quran. However some people decided that they did not like the way the new caliph was chosen and they were not happy with the Median’s decision. This disagreement led to the first of many bloody civil wars in the Islamic faith. In 656, the third caliph named Uthman was assassinated during this war. When the third caliph died, the rebels responsible for his assassination nominated Ali to be the successor. Ali was Muhammad’s first cousin and the husband to one of Muhammad’s daughter. The rebels believed that he was the natural heir to Muhammad and that he should have been Muhammad’s first successor. More fighting ensued him accepting the nomination and he was killed. That is when the schism occurred and the faith of Islam was split into two major groups. The Muslims who believed that Ali should have been the first successor were called Shi’ites. They believe that the caliph should be a descendant of Muhammad. The Muslims who believed that the first three caliphs were rightfully picked were called Sunnis. They believe that the caliph not need to be one of Muhammad’s descendants, but only extremely knowledgeable in Islamic teachings. This Schism greatly weakened Islam because the Muslims were now fighting amongst themselves instead of spreading the Islamic faith. Even today evidence of this weakness is apparent, especially in the Middle East. Sunnis and Shi’ites regularly fight over everything, and end up killing one another in the process, weakening the Islamic faith.

2. What are some reasons suggested by historians for the spread of Islam and the expansion of the Islamic empire? Starting Middle East, Islam spread throughout many different cultures and regions becoming a dominant world religion. One possible way of expansion was through trade. Historians know that Muslim merchants dominated the Indian Ocean trading system and that the Islamic faith may have spread that way. They also know that the Arabic Muslims began a series of military conquests under the seconded caliph and the conquered areas began to convert to Islam as well. Trade was a major part of early civilizations and contributed greatly to the cultural diffusion that took place all through out Eurasia. Traders who encountered each other would not only trade goods, but ideas, technology, cultures, and religions as well. The Indian Ocean trading system was one of the largest maritime trading systems in the world during that time period. It stretched from East Africa all the way to Southeastern China, and its influence spread far and wide. Many of the merchants who sailed along these routes were Muslim converts, who traded with everyone from the Chinese to the Africans. These encounters between the Muslims and other peoples helped to spread Islam all over the continents. Another thing that helped to spread Islam was the fact that Islamic men were allowed to have many wives. So in every port the Muslims went, they married a new woman and started a new family. Then, when the time came, he would set sail again, moving to another port and another woman. This practice was very helpful in two ways. Not only did their wives convert to the Islamic faith, but also as the children were born and raised, they were taught the religion. Then the cycle would start all over again. This was a very effective way to spread Islam, and it allowed Islam to become a major world religion in no time at all. This also led to the mixing of the gene pool, as these children all had very different ethnic backgrounds and a rich heritage, which they then spread through trade as well. Another way the Islamic empire grew was through conquest. Most of the Arabic population was Islamic and the second caliph led wars helping to spread the faith. The peoples they conquered were not forced to convert; however they would instead have to pay a hefty tax if they were not Muslims. Many people converted to escape this tax, especially the peasants and poorer people.

3. Discuss the decline of the institution of the caliphate. Why did it decline, and what were the results of that decline?

The caliphate was the head and leader of the Islamic faith. It was a fought over and coveted position, and the fighting eventually led to a weaker Islamic community. The position of caliphate slowly disappeared over time and eventually disappeared due to not only civil unrest, but also because of the Turkish conquests. The position of caliphate developed after the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632. The job of the caliph was to lead holy wars, make decisions for the Muslim people, and uphold the Islamic faith. This important position was created after Muhammad’s death, because no one knew who should lead the Muslims. In spite of that, less than 24 hours after the death, a new leader was chosen, named Abu Bakr. One of Muhammad’s devout followers, he decided that in order to lead the Islamic peoples; he needed to enforce Muhammad’s teachings. He continued to show support for the five pillars of faith. In addition to that, he ordered the people to create the Quran, or a collection of Muhammad’s teachings. However not all people were pleased that Abu was chosen as the caliph. All of the Islamic people knew that no one else would be able to communicate with god, as Muhammad was the “last prophet”. Some Muslims though, believed that the caliph should be one of Muhammad’s descendants like Ali (his first cousin). This caused a schism in the Islamic faith. The Muslims who believed the first caliph was the rightful one became the Sunnis; the Muslims who believed that the caliph should be Muhammad’s descendant were called Shi’ite. The fighting between these two groups was very fierce. It led to the assassination of one of the caliphs and would split the power of Islam in half. While this fighting was occurring, other events were weakening the Islamic faith. Mongol invasions did not happen often, but when they did they were so fierce and intense that it stunned the Muslims. Around that time, the Turkish people took over the Islamic kingdom, adding to the violence and confusion. The Sunni and Shi’ite factions already weakened the position of caliph because of the constant fighting and civil revolts, so the position was already in jeopardy. When the Turkish people took over, the caliph only served as a puppet, while the leaders in Turkey served as puppeteers. Over time because of this immense decrease in the caliph’s power, the position slowly disappeared and faded from public mind.

4. Discuss the position of women in the Islamic societies, paying particular attention to the issues of seclusion, veiling, and education. Ho did the status of Islamic women compare with that of the Jewish and Christian women?

Women were often secluded and rarely ever traveled. Most women were illiterate and were banned from public life. They had a large influence over the family, but they still had no public appearance. Women slaves were the only ones

allowed to perform in front of men as dancers and musicians and men were allowed to marry up to four wives and have as many sexual encounters with slaves as they wanted to. Islam law gave women better status then Christianity and Buddhism did. Women had basic rights and were allowed to divorce and go on pilgrimages. They also could own land and property. Women lived very interesting lives as Muslims. They were very secluded, though they had basic freedoms that most other women did not enjoy. Because of Muhammad’s teachings, women were held in a higher status than women of Buddhism and Christianity. In everyday life, women were kept out of sight. They were not allowed to be seen by men that were unrelated to them. It was considered a sin to look upon a married women and it was punishable by law. When women did go out of the house, it was usually only for purpose of household chores and when they did go out, they were required to wear a veil. Also, if women wished to learn to read and write, then she had to do it in the privacy of there own home. Women were charged with basic duties such as running the household and doing chores. The poorer and lower class women worked in the fields and tended to the livestock, while also raising and educating her children. She also had to cook, clean, and provide the family with food and clothes. In the household, the man of the house was considered the leader or the head of the house, but women had a great deal of influence over the decitions made. Women in the Islamic faith enjoyed basic freedoms that most women of that time period did not. Women were allowed to own and inherit property, which was a major improvement of that time period. Also, if a woman got married, that property would remain hers and she would not have to surrender it to her husband. They also had the right to divorce and remarry at their own will, not only at the will of the husband. This was extremely good for women, as women in other religions were only allowed a divorce unless the church the approved it. Women were allowed to testify in court, though their word would not be considered as good as a man’s would, only half as good. This showed the true social status of women. It showed that the Islamic people considered women to be important, but not as important as men were. Women were sometimes treated poorly and as trophies too. Men were allowed to marry up to four wives, and women slaves did not have a very good standing. Women slaves were the only ones allowed to perform in front of men as dancers or musicians, and they had to perform any sexual act the men desired. Even if a man had a wife, he was allowed as many sexual encounters with a woman as he wanted. Women were also given rights over themselves too. They were allowed to practice methods of birth control, should they choose. Women also had some amount of say in their marriage, though the men had the final say.

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