History of Islam
Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, with 1.6 million followers as of 2012. It was founded in Mecca and Medina by the Prophet Muhammad, in the 7th century AD.
The founding lore of Islam, as detailed in their holy book, the Quran, states that God picked Muhammad, a nomadic merchant, to be a prophet. Muhammad was approached by angels and received a series of revelations from God over the course of 23 years which would shape the faith and be noted down in the Quran. Muhammad then began to preach this message and convert people.
Muhammad preached in the city of Mecca but was driven out, and escaped to the nearby city of Medina, where he became a judge. Muhammad, who was recognized as a prophet, then became a military leader, and went on to conquer Mecca before his death in 632 AD.
After Muhammad died, there was an argument over who should succeed him. Some favored his close friend Abu Bakr, others favored his cousin Ali. This split resulted in a fracture among Muslims, between the Sunnis, who favored Abu Bakr, and the Shiites, who favored Ali. Abu Bakr won out and along with three others who followed him, was called a 'Rashidun' or 'rightly guided' Caliph. The Caliphs, Muslim religious and political leaders, conquered all of Arabia, Persia, the Levant (present-day Israel), Egypt, and parts of North Africa in the span of 30 years, forming a religiously-run empire, or Caliphate.
The Caliphate would reach its largest extent under the Umayyad dynasty in the 8th century, at which point it stretched from Spain to India, and was one of the largest empires in history. This kicked off the Golden Age of Islam which lasted for 400 years. In this time, great scientific and medical advances were made in the Muslim world. Although the Golden Age was interrupted by the crusades, a series of holy wars launched by Christian nations to attempt to retake the Levant in between 1000 and 1200 AD.
The Mongols, nomadic horsemen from Asia, invaded in the 13th century, and ended the Golden Age. At this point the Muslim world was fractured, until the 14th and 15th centuries, when the most famous Muslim power, the Ottoman Empire, arose. In this period, Muslims converted Indonesia and parts of India to Islam as well, often through brutal conquest.
The Ottomans conquered the Byzantine Empire, in present-day Turkey and Greece, and formed one of the longest-lived empires in history, lasting until World War I. The Ottomans became one of the richest nations on Earth due to trade. They were among the first nations to use cannons and muskets in the 1400s, and formed an empire which included Egypt, Iraq, North Africa, Arabia, and Greece. They challenged the other great powers of Europe for centuries, and defined the Muslim world.
However, by the 1900s, they were known as the 'sick man of Europe.' A long series of wars, inefficient governance, and demoralized people had led them to become a shadow of their former self. When World War I kicked off, they sided with Austria and Germany, as they needed a European ally and none of the other nations wanted to ally with them.
They wound up losing big in WWI, as Britain and France partitioned the Ottoman Empire in a treaty known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Territories which were cut off from the Ottoman Empire (which became Turkey) after WWI include Greece, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and several others. The British and French did this to establish Middle-Eastern colonies, but abandoned the region after WWII. A hundred years later, the Middle East is still unstable, partially because of the partition.
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