Contextualization–Islam | World History | Khan Academy


– [Instructor] Here is a passage from the Scottish philosopher, writer, even a little bit of mathematics,
historian Thomas Carlyle. And, he wrote this On
Heroes, Hero-Worship, & the Heroic in History. And this is in reference to his view on Mohammed and the spread of Islam. A poor shepherd people, he’s referring to the
Arabs before Mohammed, roaming unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world: a Hero-Prophet was sent down to them with a word they could believe; see the unnoticed becomes
the world-notable, the small has grown world-great; within one century afterwards, Arabia is at Grenada on
this hand, at Delhi on that. He’s speaking of within 100
years of Mohammed’s death, the Muslim empire has spread
from what would eventually be Southern Spain, all
the was to Northern India. These Arabs, the man Mahomet,
and that one century, is it not as if a spark
had fallen, one spark, on a world of what seemed
black unnoticeable sand; but lo, the sand proves explosive powder, blazes heaven high from Delhi to Grenada. I said, the Great Man was always
as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame. And Thomas Carlyle is known
as one of the proponents of the of Great Man view of history, that history is nothing but the story of a series of great men, who changed the direction
in which humanity travels. So, what we’re gonna do in this video is think about whether it
really is all about a great man, or were there other things
that were in the context of the time and space in
which these things occur. This is what the world
looked like in the year 600. Mohammed starts spreading
his revelations in 610, and so you can see on this
map, there’s two major powers: the Byzantine, which is
the Eastern Roman Empire, the vestiges of the Roman Empire, and you also have the
Sassanid Persian Empire. The Byzantines are a Christian empire, and the Sassanids are Zoroastrian, and Mohammed is from the Quraysh tribe, which is in charge of Mecca, which is considered a pilgrimage site for the various tribes of Arabia. But, you can see that
Arabia is fragmented, and this doesn’t even do justice
to how fragmented it was. But, if you fast forward 200
years, you see a major change, and in fact, you wouldn’t
have to go all the way to 800, even by the early eighth century, you see that Islam has spread from the Iberian peninsula
all the way to the Indus, and most of this, as mentioned, happens within 100 years
after Mohammed’s death. But, let’s ask our central question: why did Islam emerge so
rapidly where and when it did? And there’s no clear right
or wrong answer here, it’s all going to be conjecture, but that’s what’s fun about history, we can think about what we think we know, and then we can debate,
and think about are there some patterns here that we
see over and over in history? Well, what’s the context? So, we know for a fact
that Arabia was fragmented, that the law of the land
in Arabia was tribal, and tribal justice, and this is the world that Mohammed grew up in. The various tribes often
worshiping different gods. We also know at this time that Mohammed had exposure to other religions, some of which had penetrated
the various tribes of Arabia. Most notably, you have Christianity, and Mohammed’s wife’s cousin
was, in fact, a Christian. And you also have Judaism. These two clearly being related religions, Christianity coming out
of a Jewish tradition. We also know that the
two great empires here, the Byzantines and Persian empires are in constant conflict, and in fact, the Arabs and many in the Middle East are the pawns in that conflict. And so, you have the
Byzantines versus the Persians, with the possibility of
those living in their lands might not have been happy with either. There’s also the sense that
we’re at the very beginning of a long decline for
the Byzantine Empire. So, one thesis could be that
Mohammed was able to bring many of the ideas of
Christianity and Judaism, but these ideas helped to
unify a fragmented Arab people. And not only did it unify them, but it gave them the energy that you could have
through religious zeal, and that energy is what allowed them not only to unify in Arabia, and they’re able to unify most of Arabia by the time of Mohammed’s death. But, within 100 years of his death, they’re able to take over
the entire Sassanid Empire and make major inroads
into the Byzantine Empire. And so, one argument might be, and I encourage you to argue with me, that they were unified, they
had this missionary zeal, which perhaps was only seen
in Christianity before Islam, and they were able to
take advantage of conflict and discontent between the Byzantines and Persians in order to spread. Now, another question is do
we see any patterns here? Are there any other examples
in history of this happening? Well, the most comparable
religion is Christianity, which is, today, larger than Islam, but Christianity, you have
a long period between Jesus, who is the central figure of Christianity, who is the underlying spiritual figure, and when Christianity really spreads, and really becomes and empire, and that really starts with Constantine, roughly 300 years after the time of Jesus. What’s interesting about
the example in this video, the example of Islam, in
terms of the religion, Mohammed plays a little
bit of both of these roles. He is a spiritual figure,
he has revelations, but he is also the founder of an empire, he also governs, he is also a
military and political figure. And so, perhaps for the first
time in history on this scale, you have the combination
of religious zeal, of spiritual belief, of faith,
combined with governance, combined with the desire
to create an empire. In terms of empire, the only
thing that might be comparable in terms of the vastness and
the speed in which it happens, is the Mongol empire, the
Mongols are an example of people who were
fragmented initially, tribal, unified by Genghis Khan,
and through that unification were able to spread incredibly rapidly, and take on some long historic and possibly declining empires. So, I’ll leave you there,
it’s a fascinating question that historians debate to this day. Islam started awfully fast,
and spread awfully fast. Why did this happen? Was it some unique
characteristics of Mohammed? Was it some unique
characteristics of the religion? Or, as Thomas Carlyle alludes to, maybe this whole region was just waiting for something like this, something to unify the tribes of Arabia and take on the decaying
Byzantine and Sassanid empires.

23 comments

  1. If you read the seerah (a prophetic biography) by ibn ishaq, it will tell you how the muslims overcame the Sassanid and Byzantine empire. The arab muslims took on the Sassanid empire with little to no technology, weapons, or numbers. This was something so amazing that it could only be explained as being a miracle from Allah.

  2. before the coming of Prophet Mohammad the Arab tried to make a kingdom like the others, because they had the power to do that , but because of a conflict between the new king and his cousin a war started and last for 40 years , and after the End of this War the Arab started again of  Establishing their Kingdom

  3. 96 videos in and Ancient Egypt is still the only civilization in Africa that you have made an episode about. Come on Khan Academy! I thought this was supposed to be "World" History.

    Sarcastic tones aside, I think your audience would appreciate several episodes on different African civilizations and how they interact with one another and with the world at large. Speaking for myself, history of Africa before 1800 would be great i.e medieval Mali, Medieval Ethiopia, Great Zimbabwe, the Swahili Coast, Medieval Congo, etc….

    On a positive note, it's nice to see that a lot of Asian and Mesoamerican civilizations have been covered on this channel. Keep it up, Khan Academy!

  4. I will Agree curlyle.
    U might say "islam was put in the most convenience spot so that it might spread enough fast that it wont fade by the storms of time.
    If it was any other place in that time Islam more likely would be like sikhism(unable to spread).

  5. It spread so fast because Muhammad(pbuh) was True Prophet of God. God will grant victory to the believers.

  6. Surah Al Baqarah verses 23 and 24:

    And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful.

    But if you do not – and you will never be able to – then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.

  7. Thank you for this perspective on islam.We need these explorations to suppress the social fragmentation in the world prevailing today.

  8. ISLAM WAS SPREAD LIKE THAT BECAUSE GOD IS STANDING WITH MUSLIMS ………THIS IS THE ONLY EXPLICATION BECAUSE MUSLIMS THEMSELVES DONT KNOW HOW IT HAPENNED ………….. AND BY THE WAY MOHAMMED DIDNT TOOK IDEAS FROM JEWS AND CHRISTIAN …..HE HAD A MESSAGE FROM GOD ……..ARABS NEVER NEVER NEVER HAD A KING OR EMPEROR …THEY KILLED THE ONLY KING THEY HAD ….BUT WHEN THE PROPHET CAME THEY KNEW THAT HE IS A PROPHET OF GOD AND THEY FOLLOWED HIM WITH THEIR HEART AND LOOK WHAT THEY DONE ……………..THE HISTORY WILL REPEAT IT SELF AND WE WILL DO THE SAME THING AGAIN INCHALLAH

  9. MUSLIMS ARE THE ONLY NATION THAT TOOK DOWN PERSIANS AND BYZANTINE AT THE SAME TIME AND WITH BEING ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED IN MAN AND TECHNOLOGY ………..EVEN ALEXANDER THE GREAT HAD ONLY SOME BATTLE AGAIUNST WEAK OPPONENT …..AND DARIUS OF PERSIA MADE SO MANY STRATEGY ERROR THAT LEFT HIM SO WEAK IN THE END

  10. I don't agree with your hypothesis if peaceful conquest. Since the onset Islam has been an oppressive religion whose followers desecrate and mock other culture and religion at every available opportunity. They even fought among themselves just after the death of Mohammad. Who will believe that such fanatics ever thought of peace and co-existence with others?

  11. Islam is a cancer to the world. Muhammad was a violent barbaric cult leader, who converted thousands through force. And afterwards, Islam began hundreds of attacks on Europe, and this helped start the dark ages.

  12. A humankind is considered a temple of God! It could've spread rapidly because people were helpless and prefer to paying lesser taxes. War should be fought among equals, during daylight hours away from civilians, women and children. The Universal Law~ All living beings are children of God!!! True religion Does Not encourages Anger, Lust nor Greed!!! Where is the divine peace?

  13. As a very unorthodox Christian (I'm a strict Unitarian as opposed to being Trinitarian), I don't see the creation of any kind of religious "empire," whether it be "Christian," Muslim, or any other religious movement, as being true religion at all. True Christianity was never intended by Jesus or the Apostles to be a state religion or any kind of controlling organization of government. Instead, it was to be a religion of the heart and mind, resulting in the directed effort toward SELF-mastery and virtue, being a "scattered-salt" religion of one here, two or three there, a few over yonder, etc. ANY religion that seeks forced conversion, empire status, control of government, etc. , in any form or fashion whatever; and, whether it be in the name of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or any other religion–none of this is from the true God.

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