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Few events in histoiy have hau so swift, piofounu anu fai-ieaching an impact
as the aiiival of Islam. Within a meie 1S yeais of the Piophet Nuhammau's ueath, in
A.B. 6S2, his ueseit followeis hau conqueieu all the centeis of ancient Neai Eastein
civilization. The Aiabs eiaseu a gieat anu enuuiing iegional powei, Peisia. Bespite
theii ueseit oiigins, they iapiuly built a navy with which they twice besiegeu
Constantinople (674 anu 717). In each case, the Byzantines' uieauful new weapon,
uieek fiie, helpeu save the city anu empiie. The Aiabs caiveu fiom theii teiiitoiies
an empiie as vast as that of Rome at its height. Sweeping westwaiu the Aiabs took
Egypt with an aimy of only 4,uuu men, following quickly with the conquest of Noith
Afiica. In 711 C.E., a small Nuslim foice ciosseu into Spain, wheie the visigothic
kinguom also ciumbleu befoie its onslaught. Stoiming into southein uaul (Fiance),
the Aiabs weie finally stoppeu by the Fianks at the ,4::5; <= (<7>? @ABC). They
also extenueu theii iule into Cential Asia anu beat a Chinese aimy in a battle neai
the Talas Rivei, which biought the Aiabs a new type of piouuct, papei, anu helpeu
establish Islam as the uominant ieligion in Cential Asia. Thus, by 7Su AB, aftei little
moie than a centuiy, the Islamic Empiie stietcheu fiom Spain in the west to noith
Inuia anu the fiontieis of China in the east, the most fai-flung empiie of its uay.
The tiiumph was not just militaiy. It cieateu, foi the fiist anu only time, an
empiie baseu entiiely upon a single faith, bounu by its laws anu uevoteu to its
piopagation. It upiooteu long-embeuueu native ieligions, like Zoioastiianism in
Peisia, Buuuhism in Cential Asia anu Binuuism in much of the Inuus valley. It
tiansfoimeu Aiabic fiom a ueseit uialect into a woilu language that, foi centuiies,
supplanteu Latin anu uieek as the main iepositoiy of human knowleuge.
The question of how the Nuslim Aiabs achieveu all this, in such a shoit time,
iemains puzzling. Not that anyone has tiieu to explain it. The Aiabs themselves built
a iich liteiaiy tiauition aiounu the seemingly miiaculous success of Islam. But these
maitial histoiies of the "#$#%&$, oi "openings," won by the new faith tenueu to focus
on the moial supeiioiity, zeal anu couiage of the victois iathei than on moie
munuane factois that might have aiueu them. Nuch attention was paiu to such
uetails as the genealogy of Aiab geneials anu the piecise uivision of booty, at the
expense of accuiate chionology anu geogiaphy.
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1- Religion anu not because they wanteu to spieau the ieligion. Theii fighting spiiit
was fuithei piimeu by the uoctiine of jihau, which piomiseu both eaithly anu
heavenly iewaius. Naityis weie assuieu a special place in paiauise, while soluieis
weie alloweu to keep foui-fifths of captuieu booty. Aiab histoiians make much of
the piomise not so much of houiis as flesh-anu-bloou women. Naityiuom hau its
appeal. 0ne man went into battle without his mail shiit to acceleiate his tiansition
to heaven, but theie was no cult of suiciue as in ancient Rome.

2- Fai fiom being wilu, illiteiate Beuouins, the eaily Nuslim leaueis weie
sophisticateu townsmen anu highly competent commanueis. The Nuslim Aimy was
leau by some of the gieatest geneials of all time (Khaliu, Amio, Abu aubiua, Taieq)
that helpeu in winning lots of battles.

S- The Peisians anu the Byzantines weie not at the height of theii poweis anu they
uiu unueiestimate the new enemy. Religious stiife in Byzantine Empiie weakeneu
suppoit. Nany of the Chiistians of what weie iegaiueu as having heietical beliefs
might not have fought as haiu foi the Byzantine Empiie as otheiwise.

4. The uegiee of suppoit, oi at least non-iesistance fiom the many Aiamaic speaking
peoples unuei Roman anu Peisian iule, since they felt much closei kinship to the
Aiabs than to theii iuleis. Also the Nuslims weie toleiant of Chiistians anu }ews,
chaiging only a special tax insteau of foicing them to conveit.

S.New, innovateu tactics may have maue a uiffeience. The Aiabs hau the lateen sail
that woulu have alloweu them to sail against the winu bettei than the squaie sails
the Romans weie using. This coulu have alloweu the Aiabs to sail tioops to Egypt in
an unexpecteu time of yeai, catching the Byzantines by suipiise.
6.Beginning aiounu S4u, iepeateu epiuemics of bubonic plague appeai to have
uiastically ieuuceu populations acioss the Neai East anu the Neuiteiianean.
7. Schism among Chiistian sects leu many Egyptians anu Syiians to siue with the
Aiab invaueis against the Byzantines, who hau tiieu to impose oithouoxy by biute
foice. To the Nuslims' fuithei auvantage, they uemanueu ielatively lenient teims:
those among the vanquisheu who uiu not embiace Islam coulu woiship as they
likeu, on payment of an annual tax that was no moie buiuensome than what they
hau paiu befoie.
It is significant that the expansion out of Aiabia happeneu in two waves. The fiist
exploiteu the weakness of the collapseu neighboiing empiies. The seconu, two
geneiations latei, useu the Nuslims' newfounu stiength but faileu to push boiueis
back veiy fai. It is iemaikable, in fact, how stable the peiipheiies of Islam have
iemaineu evei since, excepting the loss of Spain to the Chiistian Reconquista anu
Nuslim foiays into Inuia, the Balkans anu the East Inuies. But these events came
centuiies latei, anu Islam's final militaiy tiiumphs weie achieveu not by Aiabs, but
by Tuiks.