Islam and Western Europe
Muslims established one of the world’s largest empires in history between the mid-7th and mid-13th centuries. They conquered large parts of Asia, North Africa, and European nations like Spain. The rate of their spread during this period was unparalleled in comparison to any other expanding empire in history. The evidence of their effects in the areas they conquered can be seen today in the remaining Islam religion, their architectural designs, and some of their practices in medicine and science. Their spread has raised questions as to how they were able to conquer other nations and establish such a vast empire in a short time and what effects it had on the established empire and other neighboring nations. They were able to conquer numerous territories so fast because of their religious tenets and the weakness of their targets in science, religion and agriculture felt in Western Europe.
The Muslim tenets and beliefs serve as their guide in their daily life. They influenced their conquests as well as how they managed their empire. They have five main tenets. These practices can be observed in every Muslim community all over the world today. The first tenet is the declaration of faith which states that there is no other god but God, with Muhammad as his messenger (Denny). Making this declaration is one of the qualifications to become a Muslim. It is repeated several times each day by the faithful Muslim. It is followed by the five daily ritual prayers. They are made at dawn, noon, in the afternoon, sunset, and the last one – before going to bed. They can be performed in a group or alone. Muslims go to the mosque on Friday noon for prayer. The third tenet is charities. All Muslims are expected to give a part of fortune to those with less. It is called ‘purification’ and makes roughly 2.5 percent of a person’s annual savings. The fourth tenet is observing the fast during the month of Ramadan. The fast runs from dawn until dusk during the ninth month of their calendar. It marks the month when the prophet eceived his first revelation. Its aim is to encourage sympathy and self-discipline. During this time, Muslims are expected to abstain from water, sex, food, gossip, cigarettes, backbiting, and anger among other negative behaviors (Denny).
Muslims also share common beliefs according to their faith. They believe in one God who has no gender, progeny, and partners. They also believe that God gave his message to people through prophets including Jesus and Muhammad. They believe in the existence of angels created to do the will of God. They acknowledge the sacred books that include the Psalms, the Quran, the Torah, and the Gospel. Finally, they believe that every person will account for their activities on Earth on the day of resurrection and judgment (Denny). These beliefs and tenets formed the daily habit of the Muslims and influenced their advancement of conquest as they saw it as a means of spreading Allah’s message.
Muslims initially targeted the Sassanid Persian and Byzantine empires who were their immediate geographic neighbors (Berkey). They timed their invasion so that it coincided with a period when both empires were financially and militarily weak after decades of engaging in war. The heavy taxation of the locals by both empires plus the strict religious policies that were meant to prevent deviation from state religions, Zoroastrianism for the Sassanid and Orthodox Christianity for the Byzantines, made them resent their rulers. The situation was worsened by a five-year drought that ravaged North Africa and Asia before the Muslim invasion leading to severe famine. All these factors fueled the local population’s need for a change in leadership. Most cities failed to help the Sassanid and Byzantine empires in resisting the Muslim invasion, with some even helping the Arabs in their conquest. It enabled the Arabs to conquer Near East, North Africa, and the entire Sassanid Empire causing its collapse a few years later. Since the Sassanid Empire spread all the way into India, Muslims attacked and established states in presennt-day north India and Pakistan. They were resisted by the Tang Chinese in their expansion, but their religion has already penetrated some territories of Western China (Berkey). The conquest of North Africa enabled Muslims to invade Spain. It was experiencing disputes and internal problems at the time thus making it easy for the Muslims to carry out their conquest. Further invasion of Europe was halted by the Frankish states in the present-day France because it was more organized and better unified than the other conquered empires. Thus, Muslims were able to build a big empire because they attacked the area that was too weak to mount a strong resistance, and the people of those areas welcomed the change of a ruler because of the hardships that they had gone through under their previous leaders.
Muslims influenced the development of Western Europe by sharing their civilization with their new expanded empire. Muslims contributed to the arts, agriculture, industry, economics, literature, law, philosophy, navigation, technology, sociology, and science by innovations and inventions as well as the preservation of their earlier traditions. They established the “House of Wisdom” in Baghdad where both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars could gather to improve their knowledge. The empire served as the prototype of the universal civilization because it brought together people of diverse origins including Indians, Chinese, white Europeans, black Africans, and people from the Middle East for the first time in history (Graham). They introduced papermaking to Spain and then to Europe after perfecting the art from the Chinese. The earliest concerns for the environment are noted in the treatises written by Al-Kindi among others. They covered such topics as air and water pollution, soil contamination, and municipal solid waste management. They were credited with the establishment of public educational and scientific institutions like the public hospital, public library, academic degree-granting university, and psychiatric hospitals.