Discovering Our Past: Medieval and Early Modern Times
The geography of Arabia helped shape the Arab way of life. The Arabian Peninsula is covered with desert, and water is found only at oases. In order to survive the intense heat, early Arabs formed tribes. The leader of the tribe was called a sheikh. Many Arabs lived in towns where they farmed or raised animals, while others were merchants. As trade increased, merchants started towns along the Arabian trade routes. Makkah, a crossroads for caravans and an important religious site, became very wealthy from trade.
The prophet Muhammad brought the message of Islam to the people of Arabia. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. They believe in one God named Allah. The Quran provides guidelines for Muslims' lives and the governments of Muslim states. Arabs spread Islam through preaching, conquest, and trade. After Muhammad died, his followers chose a successor called a caliph. This decision over who should be caliph eventually divided the Muslim world into the Shiites and the Sunnis.
The Arab Empire reached new heights under the Abbasid dynasty, and Baghdad became wealthy from trade. The Seljuk Turks moved into the empire, however, and they eventually seized Baghdad. Seljuk rulers called sultans ruled alongside the Abbasid caliph. The Mongols brought an end to the Arab Empire in 1258, after they invaded Baghdad and burned the city to the ground. Other Muslim groups, such as the Moguls and Ottomans, built Islamic empires in Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Muslims were successful merchants, in part because they had a common language and a common currency. Baghdad, Cairo, and Damascus grew wealthy from trade and became important centers of learning, government, and the arts. The cities featured mosques that served as Muslim houses of worship and centers of learning. The bazaar, or marketplace, was a very important part of the Muslim city. Although Muslims enjoyed great success and cities grew, most Muslims lived in villages and farmed.
Muslims made valuable contributions in math, science, and the arts. Muslim scholars saved and translated the works of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Muslims are well known for their beautiful buildings. The Taj Mahal, in India, which is made of marble and precious stone, is one of the world's most beautiful buildings.