Change & Continuity Over Time: Islam

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Change & Continuity Over Time: Islam


Because his sons had died in infancy, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) died without a clear hereditary male successor. He apparently had not appointed anyone to succeed him, and the result was confusion and an unclear line of succession—a fact that ultimately created significant divisions in Islam, whose effects remain today. The earliest stage of growth of Islam came during the time of the first four rulers, called the orthodox caliphs. These men had been close to Muhammad (PBUH), and their home was Arabia. A major change occurred, however, as Islam spread outside Arabia. From an early, deliberate simplicity, Islam would now become more urbane and complex.

Thesis Statement

Islam has always modified itself according to the contemporary challenges of the world successfully without losing its fundamental beliefs.


Islam arose at a time (seventh century C.E.) that was congenial to the growth of a new political and religious power. The Byzantine Empire, ruling from Constantinople, had fought repeatedly with the Persian Empire, and both were weakened by the effort. Areas theoretically controlled by the Byzantine emperor, such as regions of northern Africa, were far away from the capital. (Aslan, 12-15)

Modern life presents great challenges to traditional Islam. Industrial work schedules make daily prayer and other religious practices difficult; women are demanding total equality with men and complete independence; and individualism is weakening family ties and social responsibility. Islam is being pulled in many directions.

Soon after its beginnings, Islam became and remained a world power for about eight hundred years. During that period, Islamic universities—in Baghdad, Córdoba, and Cairo—were among the great centers of learning and scientific investigation in the world. Islamic cities were centers of civilized living. During this period, Islamic strength contrasted with the general weakness of western Europe: the Roman Empire had ceased to exist in the West by the late fifth century, not long before Muhammad (PBUH) was born. Ruling from Constantinople, the Byzantine emperors continued the Eastern Roman Empire in weakened form. Islam's last great military victory was the conquest of Constantinople, and thus of the Eastern Roman Empire, in 1453. Islam continued to spread and consolidate eastward, as far as Indonesia and the Philippines, but after that its expansion slowed. (Dirks, 20-25)

Toward the end of the fifteenth century the pendulum of power swung in the opposite direction. While Islam became fairly settled in its territory, western Europe began to expand its control. Significant turning points were Columbus's journeys to the New World, beginning in 1492, and Vasco da Gama's journey around Africa and his arrival in India in 1498. These explorations changed the patterns of trade. Before then, trade was conducted primarily by land routes, which were frequently controlled by Muslim rulers. Now journeys could be made by ship, a form of travel that greatly enlarged the opportunity for travelers to influence others. These journeys were just the beginning of powerful waves of expansion by European traders, soldiers, political figures, and Christian missionaries. Coupled with circumnavigation were the growth of scientific understanding ...
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