A map shows the spread of Islam, from 632 to 1000.
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Islam spread across northern Africa and into the Mediterranean. Near what important city was the further spread of Islam into Europe stopped?

Members of both branches of Islam believe in the same God, look to the Quran for guidance, and follow the Pillars of Islam. However, Sunnis and Shiites differ in such areas as religious practice, law, and daily life. Today, about 90 percent of Muslims are Sunni. Most Shiites live in Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. The Shiite branch itself has further split into several different subgroups.

Over the centuries, the division between Sunnis and Shiites has sometimes been a source of conflict. When Sunni rulers held power, they often favored other Sunnis and deprived Shiites of wealth and power. When Shiites gained power, Sunnis often stood to lose. This sometimes bitter rivalry remains a source of tension in the Middle East today.

Sufis Emerge

In both the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam, a group called the Sufis emerged. Sufis are Muslim mystics who sought communion with God through meditation, fasting, and other rituals. Sufis were respected for their piety and some were believed to have miraculous powers.

Like Christian monks and nuns, some Sufis helped spread Islam by traveling, preaching, and being good examples to others. They carried the faith to remote villages, where they blended local traditions and beliefs into Muslim culture.

Umayyad Caliphs Create an Arab Empire

After the death of Ali, a powerful Meccan clan set up the Umayyad (oo MY ad) caliphate, a dynasty of Sunni caliphs that ruled the Muslim empire until 750. From their capital at Damascus in Syria, they directed the conquests that extended Arab rule from Spain and Morocco in the west to the Indus River Valley in the east. Although Islam also spread peacefully through trade and cultural exchange—reaching East Africa as early as the mid-700s—these conquests further enabled the spread of Muslim civilization and had an impact on Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The Muslim Empire Expands

From Egypt, Arab Muslim armies moved west, defeating Byzantine forces across North Africa.

In 711, Muslim forces crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered Spain. In 731, a Muslim army moved north into France to settle new areas.

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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