8.2 A Muslim Empire

The death of Muhammad plunged his followers into grief. Muhammad had been a pious man and a powerful leader. No one else had ever been able to unify so many Arab tribes. Could the community of Muslims survive without him?

Illustration of soldiers with horses and shields amidst a group of tents.

This illustration from the 1100s shows Muslim soldiers setting up their tents by a river. Arab Muslim armies had a remarkable series of military victories under Abu Bakr and his successors.


  • Describe the spread of Islam.
  • Identify the divisions that emerged within Islam.
  • Describe the rise of Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties.
  • Explain why the Abbasid empire declined.

Key Terms

  • Abu Bakr
  • caliph
  • Sunni
  • Shiite
  • Sufi
  • Umayyad
  • Abbasid
  • Baghdad
  • minaret
  • sultan

Islam Faces Challenges

Muslims faced a problem when Muhammad died because he had not named a successor to lead the community. Eventually, they agreed that Abu Bakr (uh BOO BAK ur), Muhammad's father-in-law and an early convert to Islam, should be the first caliph, or successor to Muhammad. Abu Bakr sternly told the faithful, “If you worship Muhammad, Muhammad is dead. If you worship God, God is alive.”

Arabs Join Together Under Islam

Abu Bakr faced an immediate crisis. The loyalty of some Arab tribal leaders had been dependent on Muhammad's personal command. They refused to follow Abu Bakr and withdrew their loyalty to Islam. After several battles with the wavering tribes, Abu Bakr succeeded in reuniting the Muslims, based on their allegiance to Islam.

Once reunited, the Muslims set out on a remarkable series of military campaigns. They began by converting the remaining Arab tribes to Islam, which ended warfare between Arabs and united them under one leader.

Arab Muslims Win Victories

Then, under the first four caliphs, the Arab Muslims marched from victory to victory against the neighboring Byzantine and Persian empires, capturing territory in parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa.

End ofPage 261

Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments