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HIST351: Islam, The Middle East, and The West

Unit 3: Arab Conquests and the Rise of the Caliphate   After being united under the aegis of Islam, the Arabs—known as the Umayyads—began military campaigns outside of their realm.  In the mid-seventh century, Muslim armies began invading parts of the increasingly vulnerable Sassanid and Byzantine empires, claiming land in what is now Egypt, Syria, and Palestine.  In fact, so powerful were the Islamic army and navy that Byzantium was permanently crippled by the invasions.  The Umayyads went on to conquer northern Africa and invade India, building a kingdom that exceeded the size of the Roman Empire.  But despite their success abroad, the Umayyads suffered a period of discord at home: a succession dispute resulted in a division of Muslims into Sunni and Shi’a factions.  While the Sunnis retained temporary control of the caliphate, a Shi’ite uprising in 750 C.E. toppled the Umayyads and established Abbasid rule.  Under the Abbasids, mass conversion to Islam was encouraged, as was a dynamic Afro-Eurasian trade network.  The Abbasids also established Persian as the official language, and encouraged the flowering of Islamic culture.
           
In this unit, we will study how the unity of the Arab world under Islam allowed for the expansion of the Umayyad Empire in the 600s.  We will also consider the causes for the Sunni-Shi’a split and the emergence of the Abbasid dynasty.

Unit 3 Time Advisory
This unit will take you approximately 9 hours to complete.

☐    Introduction: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 3.1: 1.5 hours

☐    Subunit 3.2: 1.5 hour

☐    Subunit 3.3: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 3.4: 2 hours

Unit3 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  • Identify and describe the rise of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties in the Middle East.
  • Compare and contrast these two empires.

  • Reading: The University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s The Islamic World to 1600: The Caliphate and the First Islamic Dynasty: “Introduction,” “Abu Bakr (632-34),” “Umar (634-44),” “Uthman (644-56),” “Ali (656-61),” “The Umayyad Dynasty (661-75),” “Umayyad Politics and Administration,” “Umayyad Territorial Expansion,” “Collapse of the Umayyad Dynasty.” Link: The University of Calgary: The Applied History Reaserch Group’s The Islamic World to 1600: The Caliphate and the First Islamic Dynasty: Introduction,” “Abu Bakr (632-34),” “Umar (634-44),” and “Uthman (644-56),” “Ali (656-61),” “The Umayyad Dynasty,” “Umayyad Politics and Administration,” “Umayyad Territorial Expansion,” and “Collapse of the Umayyad Dynasty
     
    Note:  All websites are in HTML format.
     
    Instructions: Please read the entirety of the linked webpages above, which offer a brief overview of early Islamic political history that addresses subsections 3.1 through 3.2.   You can toggle between chapters by using the links on the left-hand side of the webpage.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: PBS’s Islam: Empire of Faith: “The Awakening” Link: PBS’s Islam: Empire of Faith: “The Awakening” (YouTube)
     
    Instructions: Please watch the entire 55-minute documentary for a comprehensive overview of the caliphate period of Islamic history.  This documentary covers subsections 3.1 though 3.4.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.
     

3.1 The Rise of the Umayyads   - Reading: University of Notre Dame: “Medieval Period of Expansion” Link: University of Notre Dame: "Medieval Period of Expansion" (HTML)
 
Instructions: As you read, consider the following questions: Following Muhammad’s death, who did those known as Sunni Muslims support for caliph? Who did those known as Shi’a Muslims support? Which family came to the caliphate after the murder of Ali in 661 and where did they establish a new capital? Which geographic regions came under Muslim rule during the Umayyad expansion? Which groups supported the Abbasid overthrow of the Umayyad in the mid-eighth century? Where did the Abbasid dynasty establish their capital?
 
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3.1.1 Muhammad’s Successors and Military Campaigns   3.1.2 Unification and Defeat of Bedouin Clans   3.1.3 Motives for Conquest   3.1.4 Attacks on the Sassanids and Byzantium   3.2 The Umayyad Age   3.2.1 Internal Divisions: the Sunni-Shi’a Spilt   - Reading: University of Notre Dame: “The Influence of the Shi’a on Islam” Link: University of Notre Dame: "The Influence of the Shi'a on Islam" (HTML)
 
Instructions: As you read, consider the following questions: What issue prompted the initial division between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims? What did each side of the division argue? What were the consequences of their differing opinions with respect to governance? What are three of the most important groups within Shi’ism and what distinguishes each?
 
Terms of Use: This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license

  • Lecture: iTunesU: University of Wisconsin–Madison & Wisconsin Public Radio: “Sunni/Shi’a Conflict” Link: iTunesU: University of Wisconsin–Madison & Wisconsin Public Radio: “Sunni/Shi'a Conflict”  (iTunes U)
     
    Instructions: Please listen to the entire 55-minute discussion.  Though it is primarily current-events oriented, this program provides an excellent analysis of the history and enduring impact of the Sunni/Shi’a split to the history of Islam.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.2.2 Expansion into India and the Mediterranean   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation's "Expansion into India and the Mediterranean" Link: The Saylor Foundation's "Expansion into India and the Mediterranean" (PDF)

 Instructions: Please read the linked material.

3.2.3 Non-Muslim Peoples   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation's "Non-Muslim Peoples" Link: The Saylor Foundation's "Non-Muslim Peoples” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please read the linked material.

3.2.4 Decline of the Umayyads   3.3 The Abbasids   - Reading: Fordham University: Paul Halsall’s “Medieval Sourcebook: Yakut: Baghdad under the Abbasids, c. 1000 CE” Link: Fordham University: Paul Halsall’s “Medieval Sourcebook: Yakut: Baghdad under the Abbasids, c. 1000 CE” (HTML)
 
Instructions: As you read, consider the following questions: How does the author describe the layout of city of Baghdad? What features are most prominent in the account? What sorts of amusements and institutions did the city provide for residents and travelers?
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Lecture: Open Yale Courses: Paul Freedman’s "Lecture 16 - The Splendor of the Abbasid Period" Link: Open Yale Courses: Paul Freedman’s "Lecture 16 - The Splendor of the Abbasid Period" (HTML)
     
    Instructions: As you watch, consider the following questions: What were the implications of the Abbasid caliphate moving the capital to Baghdad? In what ways is the Shi’a influence revealed during the Abbasid caliphate? How did the Abbasids treat the Umayyad survivors of the civil war? Who was Abd al-Rahman and for what was he known? How did the Abbasids run and maintain their empire? Describe some of the most prominent aspects of cultural production in the Islamic world under the Abbasid caliphate. 
     
    Terms of Use: This resource is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license

  • Reading: The University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s The Islamic World to 1600: Fractured Caliphate and the Regional Dynasties: “Introduction,” “The Abbasid Dynasty,” Spain and the Maghrib,” “Egypt,” “West Africa,” “Central Asia,” “Southeast Asia,” “China,” “Chapter Summary.” Link: The University of Calgary: The Applied History Research Group’s The Islamic World to 1600: Fractured Caliphate and the Regional Dynasties:Introduction,” “The Abbasid Dynasty,” “Spain and the Maghrib,” “Egypt,” “West Africa,” “Central Asia,” “China,” “Chapter Summary
     
    Note:  All websites are in HTML format.
     
    Instructions: Please read the entirety of this webpage, which offers a brief overview of the Abbasid Dynasty as well as Islam’s expansion into North Africa and Central Asia.  You can toggle between chapters by using the links on the left-hand side of the webpage.  These links address subsections 3.3.1 through 3.5.4 as well as 4.1.1 through 4.3.2.
     
    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

3.3.1 Rebellion against the Umayyads   3.3.2 Abu Al-Abbas and Shi’ite Factions   3.3.3 Abbasid Rulers and Bureaucracy   3.3.4 Islamic Conversion   3.3.5 Afro-Eurasian Trade   3.3.6 Slaves and Peasants   3.3.7 Islamic Art and Learning   3.4 The Later Abbasids   3.4.1 Increasing Disunity   3.4.2 Opulence and Military Disputes   3.4.3 Heavy Taxes   3.4.4 Invasion of Buyids of Persia   3.4.5 Rise of the Seljuk Turks   3.5 Abbasid Society   3.5.1 Persian Language   3.5.2 Literature and Poetry   3.5.3 Scientific Advancements   3.5.4 Religion and Expansion