Early Muslim conquests

Early Muslim conquests
Map of expansion of Caliphate.svg
Expansion from 622–750, with modern borders overlaid

Islamic expansion:

  under Muhammad, 622–632
  under Rashidun caliphs, 632–661
  under Umayyad caliphs, 661–750
Commanders and leaders

The early Muslim conquests (Arabic: الفتوحات الإسلامية‎, al-Futūḥāt al-Islāmiyya) also referred to as the Arab conquests[4] and early Islamic conquests[5] began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion.

The resulting empire stretched from the borders of China and the Indian subcontinent, across Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe (Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula to the Pyrenees). Edward Gibbon writes in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

Under the last of the Umayyads, the Arabian empire extended two hundred days journey from east to west, from the confines of Tartary and India to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean ... We should vainly seek the indissoluble union and easy obedience that pervaded the government of Augustus and the Antonines; but the progress of Islam diffused over this ample space a general resemblance of manners and opinions. The language and laws of the Quran were studied with equal devotion at Samarcand and Seville: the Moor and the Indian embraced as countrymen and brothers in the pilgrimage of Mecca; and the Arabian language was adopted as the popular idiom in all the provinces to the westward of the Tigris.

The Muslim conquests brought about the collapse of the Sassanid Empire and a great territorial loss for the Byzantine Empire. The reasons for the Muslim success are hard to reconstruct in hindsight, primarily because only fragmentary sources from the period have survived. Most historians agree that the Sassanid Persian and Byzantine Roman empires were militarily and economically exhausted from decades of fighting one another.[6]

It has been suggested that some Jews and Christians in the Sassanid Empire and Jews and Monophysites in Syria were dissatisfied and welcomed the Muslim forces, largely because of religious conflict in both empires.[7] However, this is not universally accepted. It has also been suggested that later Syriac Christians reinterpreted the events of the conquest to serve a political or religious interest.[8] At other times, such as in the Battle of Firaz, Arab Christians allied themselves with the Persians and Byzantines against the invaders.[9][10] In the case of Byzantine Egypt, Palestine and Syria, these lands had been reclaimed from the Persians only a few years before.

Fred McGraw Donner, however, suggests that formation of a state in the Arabian peninsula and ideological (i.e. religious) coherence and mobilization was a primary reason why the Muslim armies in the space of a hundred years were able to establish the largest pre-modern empire until that time. The estimates for the size of the Islamic Caliphate suggest it was more than thirteen million square kilometers (five million square miles).[11]


Arabia was a region that hosted a number of different cultures, some of which were urban and others were the nomadic Bedouin.[12] Arabian society was divided along tribal and clan lines with most important divisions between the "southern" and "northern" tribal associations.[13] Both the Roman and Persian empires competed for influence in Arabia by sponsoring clients, and in turn Arabian tribes sought the patronage of the two rival empires to booster their own ambitions.[13] The Lakhmid kingdom which covered parts of what is now southern Iraq and northern Saudi Arabia was a client of Persia, and in 602 the Persians deposed the Lakhmids to take over the defense of the southern frontier themselves.[14] This left the Persians exposed and over-extended, helping to set the stage for the collapse of Persia later that century.[15] Southern Arabia, especially what is now Yemen, had for thousands of years been a wealthy region that had been a center of the spice trade.[15] Yemen had been at the center of international trading network linking Eurasia to Africa and Yemen had been visited by merchants from East Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India and even from as far away as China.[15] In turn, the Yemeni were great sailors, travelling up the Red Sea to Egypt and across the Indian Ocean to India and down the east African coast.[15] Inland, the valleys of Yemen had been cultivated by a system of irrigation that had been set back when the Marib Dam was destroyed by an earthquake in about 450 AD.[15] Frankincense and myrrh had been greatly valued in the Mediterranean region, being used in religious ceremonies, but with the conversion of the Mediterranean world to Christianity had reduced the demand for frankincense and myrrh, causing a major economic slump in southern Arabia, which helped to create the impression that Arabia was a backward region.[15]

Little is known of the pre-Islamic religions of Arabia, but it is known that the Arabs worshiped a number of gods such as al-Lat, Manat, al-Uzza and Hubal, with the most important being Allah (God).[16] There were also Jewish and Christian communities in Arabia and aspects of Arab religion reflected their influence.[16] Pilgrimage was a major part of Arabian paganism, and one of the most important pilgrimage sites was Mecca which housed the Kaaba, which considered to be an especially holy place to visit.[16] Mohammad, a merchant of Mecca, started to have visions in which he claimed that the Archangel Gabriel had told him that he was the last of the prophets continuing the work of Jesus Christ and the prophets of Tanakh.[17] After coming into conflict with the elite of Mecca, Mohammad fled to the city of Yathrib, which was renamed Medina.[17] At Yathrib, Mohammad founded the first Islamic state and by 630 conquered Mecca.[17]

The prolonged and escalating Byzantine–Sassanid wars of the 6th and 7th centuries and the recurring outbreaks of bubonic plague (Plague of Justinian) left both empires exhausted and weakened in the face of the sudden emergence and expansion of the Arabs. The last of these wars ended with victory for the Byzantines: Emperor Heraclius regained all lost territories, and restored the True Cross to Jerusalem in 629.[18] The war against Zoroastrian Persia whose people worshiped the fire god Ahura Mazda had been portrayed by Heraclius as a holy war in defense of the Christian faith and the Wood of the Holy Cross as splinters of wood said to be from the True Cross were known had been used to inspire Christian fighting zeal.[19] The idea of a holy war against the "fire worshipers" as the Christians called the Zoroastrians had aroused much enthusiasm, leading to an all-out effort to defeat the Persians.[19]

Nevertheless, neither empire was given any chance to recover, as within a few years they were overrun by the advances of the Arabs (newly united by Islam), which, according to Howard-Johnston, "can only be likened to a human tsunami".[20][21] According to George Liska, the "unnecessarily prolonged Byzantine–Persian conflict opened the way for Islam".[22]

In late 620s Muhammad had already managed to conquer and unify much of Arabia under Muslim rule, and it was under his leadership that the first Muslim-Byzantine skirmishes took place in response to the Byzantine forces incursions. Just a few months after Heraclius and the Persian general Shahrbaraz agreed on terms for the withdrawal of Persian troops from occupied Byzantine eastern provinces in 629, Arab and Byzantine troops confronted each other at the Battle of Mu'tah as a result of Byzantine vassals murdering a Muslim emissary.[23] Muhammad died in 632 and was succeeded by Abu Bakr, the first Caliph with undisputed control of the entire Arab peninsula after the successful Ridda Wars, which resulted in the consolidation of a powerful Muslim state throughout the peninsula.[24]

Other Languages
Esperanto: Islama ekspansio
Bahasa Indonesia: Penaklukan Islam
Bahasa Melayu: Penaklukan oleh Muslim
Simple English: Muslim conquests
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Muslimanska osvajanja
татарча/tatarça: Гарәп яулары