The Sasanid Empire and the Rise of Islam, 200–1200
The Sasanid Empire, 224–651
Politics and Society
The Sasanid kingdom was established in 224 and controlled the areas of Iran and Mesopotamia. The Sasanids confronted Arab pastoralists on their Euphrates border and the Byzantine Empire on the west. Relations with the Byzantines alternated between war and peaceful trading relationships. In times of peace, the Byzantine cities of Syria and the Arab nomads who guided caravans between the Sasanid and Byzantine Empires all flourished on trade. Arabs also benefited from the invention of the camel saddle, which allowed them to take control of the caravan trade. 2.
The Iranian hinterland was ruled by a largely autonomous local aristocracy that did not, however, pose a threat to the stability of the Sasanid Empire. 3.
The Silk Road brought new products to the Sasanid Empire, including a number of crops from India and China. B.
Religion and Empire
The Sasanid Empire made Zoroastrianism its official religion. The Byzantine Empire made Christianity its official religion. Both Zoroastrianism and Christianity were intolerant of other religions. State sponsorship of Zoroastrianism and Christianity set a precedent for the link that developed between the Islamic religion and the Islamic state. 2.
The Byzantine and Sasanid Empires were characterized by state involvement in theological struggles. The Byzantine Empire went to war with the Sasanids over the latter’s persecution of Christians, but the Byzantine emperors and bishops themselves purged Christianity of beliefs that they considered heretical, such as the Monophysite doctrine and Nestorianism. In the third century Mani of Mesopotamia founded a religion whose beliefs centered around the struggle between Good and Evil. Mani was killed by the Sasanid shah, but Manichaeism spread widely in Central Asia. Arabs had some awareness of these religious conflicts and knew about Christianity. 3.
During this period, religion had replaced citizenship, language, and ethnicity as the paramount factor in people’s identity. II.
The Origins of Islam
The Arabian Peninsula Before Muhammad
Most Arabs were settled people. Nomads were a minority, but they were important in the caravan trade that linked Yemen to Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. This caravan trade gave rise to and supported the merchants of caravan cities such as Petra and Palmyra. It also brought Arabs into contact with the Byzantine and Sasanid civilizations. 2.
The nomads were polytheists who worshiped natural forces and celestial bodies, but they were also familiar with other religions including Christianity. 3.
Mecca was a caravan city between Yemen and Syria. Mecca was also a cult center that attracted nomads to worship the idols enshrined in a small cubical shrine called the Ka’ba. B.
Muhammad in Mecca
Muhammad was born in Mecca, grew up as an orphan, and then got involved in the caravan trade. In 610 he began receiving revelations that he concluded were the words of the one god, Allah. Others in his community believed that he might be possessed by a spirit. 2.
The message of Muhammad’s revelations was that there is one god, Allah, and that all people ought to submit to him. At the final judgment, those who had submitted to Allah would go to paradise; those who had not, to hell. Muhammad’s revelations were considered to be the final revelations, following and superceding the earlier revelations of God to Noah, Moses, and Jesus. C.
The Formation of the Umma
Muhammad and his followers fled from Mecca to Medina in 622. In Medina, Muhammad’s Meccan followers and converts from Medina formed a single community of believers, the umma. 2.
During the last decade of Muhammad’s life the umma in Medina developed into the core of the Islamic state that would later expand to...
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