What was the importance of Muhammad for the success of the Arab conquests?
The role of Prophet Muhammad, as both a temporal and religious leader was undeniably an important factor in the success of the Arab conquests. These events took place between 622 and 750, first involving the establishment of a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula, then leading to a Muslim Empire which stretched from central Asia to North Africa and was one of the largest the world has ever seen. This overwhelming success merits explanation, yet this is difficult to establish with certainty, due to the small number and poor quality of surviving sources. Muhammad’s main role was to provide a unifying influence, both during his lifetime when he united a fragmented pre-Islamic peninsular, and after his death when the message of Islam contributed to the continuing formation of a prosperous Umma. Muhammad’s success arguably provided the platform for successors Abu Bakr and Umar to consolidate the expansion of Arab territory and power. However, other historians such as Crone and Cook have argued that Muhammad’s legacy was fragile, the caliphates such as Abu Bakr and Umar were of far more importance in the Arab conquest, and that the wider political context in which the conquests took place was of crucial importance for their success. This essay will argue that Muhammad was essential to the success of the Arab conquest, as he created the conditions necessary for their beginnings, but that other conditions were also necessary to their continuing success. Firstly, Muhammad made the initial Arab conquests possible by waging war to unite feuding groups on the Arab peninsular. Previously, various tribal groups vied for regional supremacy and Muhammad’s political, and religious leadership was the vehicle that facilitated the integration of Arabian tribal areas, and thus allowed the conquest to happen through the formation of a unified Arab army. Lapidus states that previously “the leading tribal groups, the Aws and Khazraj’s prolonged strife threatened the safety of men in the fields”; the Arab peoples were in no position to launch conquests. Muhammad united these groups by becoming the ‘Hakam’ and instituting the pledge of Al-‘Aqaba by AD 622, which ended the ‘anarchic feuding’. Lapidus further argues that Muhammad achieved this unity because he “had such an influence on the people around him that he transformed their lives” and through his transcending message of Islam, gave birth to a “brotherhood that integrated individuals, clans and cities”. One strand of historical thought, most prominently exemplified by Donner, contends that the formation of an Arabian state, alongside the religious coherence brought by Islam, was the main reason for the successful establishment of the Muslim empire. Certainly, without this unity, the Arab conquests could never have happened. Indeed, the unifying of the Arabian peninsular can be seen as the first ‘conquest’, and was certainly carried out under the leadership of Muhammad. In the Hijra (migration) to Medina, Muhammad Muhammad carry out the first major “conquest”. He faced opposition from Jews and Christians who “rejected Muhammad’s claim to being a prophet”, and decided expel non-believers from the city in order to unite Medina without the fear of an undermining presence, and to increase his following through the conversion of pagans. His actions laid the foundations for the spread of not only Islam but of his political and ideological methods, and thus provided a platform for further endeavours. In Medina, he began to hone his Umma. Arguably this secure Umma where “religious loyalties encompassed all other loyalties” facilitated the success of the battle of Badr where despite facing a larger force he was able to defeat a larger Meccan army. This was perceived as evidence of ‘divine’ favour, and thus enabled the conversion to Islam of the Meccan tribes, and paved the way for further success in the battles of...
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