Unit 1: Islamic Civilization
Islam first arrived on the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century.
But before its appearance, the tribal societies living on the Arabian
Peninsula—the Bedouin—embraced polytheistic or animistic religious
beliefs. Bedouin clans, the nomadic societies built around goat and
camel herding, populated the desert. Towns and cities, including Mecca,
were dependent upon alliances with the neighboring Bedouin tribes. When
Muhammad began preaching his “revelations” in the 600s, he encountered
hostility and criticism from many Arab communities. However, the
Bedouin eventually became enthusiastic converts to Islam—a
universalizing faith that united disparate Arab tribes.
In this unit, we will study the culture and religion of the Bedouin tribes of Arabia. We will then examine the effects that Muhammad’s conversion efforts had among the Bedouin in the seventh century.
Unit 1 Time Advisory
This unit will take you approximately 9 hours to complete.
☐ Subunit 1.1: 4 hours
☐ Subunit 1.2: 5 hours
Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:
- Identify and describe the nature of pre-Islamic society, culture, and religion.
- Describe the subsequent rise of the prophet Muhammad and his monotheistic religion, Islam.
Identify and describe the elements of Islamic law, religious texts and practices, and belief systems.
Reading: The University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s The Islamic World to 1600: “The Roman and Byzantine Empires,” “Ancient Persia,” “The Sassanid Empire,” and “The Arabian Peninsula.” Link: The University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s The Islamic World to 1600: “The Roman and Byzantine Empires,” “Ancient Persia,” “Sassanid Empire,” and “Arabian Peninsula” (All HTML)
Instructions: Please read the entirety of this webpage, which offers a brief overview of the Roman and Byzantine Empires and their relationship to the pre-Islamic Middle East as well as short political histories of the Persian and Sassanid empires. You can toggle between chapters by clicking on the rightward facing arrow at the bottom of each page.
1.1 Pre-Islamic Arabia
- Reading: Wikipedia: “Pre-Islamic Arabia”
Link: Wikipedia: “Pre-Islamic
Also available in:
1.1.1 Bedouin Nomads
- Reading: F.E. Johnson’s translation of The Hanged Poems
Link: SacredTexts.com: F.E. Johnson’s translation of “The Hanged
Also available in:
Instructions: Please read the entirety of this webpage (“Introduction,” “The Poem of Imru-ul-Quais,” “The Poem of Antar,” and “The Poem of Zuhair”); these poems will serve as excellent introductions to pre-Islamic Arab poetry.
Note on the text: The emergence of Islam in the seventh century meant that the Arabic language replaced many ethnic languages and regional dialects across the Middle East. However, while the Islamic text of the Qur’an is thought to be one of the first texts written in Arabic, many examples of Arabic literature predated it. The “hanged poems,” for example, covered the walls of the “ka-aba,” or cubic temple in Mecca, before the establishment of a widespread Muslim order.
1.1.2 Bedouin Clans
1.1.3 Towns and Trade
1.1.4 Society and Family
1.2 Origins of Islam
- Reading: University of Notre Dame: “The Life of the Prophet, The
Spread of Islam”
Link: University of Notre Dame: “The Life of the Prophet, The
Instructions: As you read, consider the following questions: Describe the nature of Muhammad’s early life and his activities. When and where did Muhammad have his first revelation? When and why did Muhammad begin to preach publicly? How did the Quraysh tribe respond to Muhammad’s preaching and why? What does the date 622 A.D. signify in Islamic chronology? What is the significance of Medina to the spread of Islam?
- Web Media: PBS’s Islam: Empire of Faith: “Muhammad”
Link: PBS’s Islam: Empire of Faith:
Instructions: Please watch the entire 55-minute documentary for a comprehensive introduction to Islam and its founder, the prophet Muhammad. This documentary explores subsections 1.2.1 through 1.2.4 as well as 2.1.1 through 2.3.1.
1.2.1 Pressures from Byzantium and the Sassanid Empire 1.2.2 Monotheism of Christianity and Judaism 1.2.3 Rise of Muhammad 1.2.4 Converts and Conflicts