There, Christian Frankish forces defeated the Muslims at the battle of Tours in 732. Muslims ruled parts of Spain for centuries, but advanced no farther into Europe. Elsewhere, Muslim forces besieged the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, but failed to take the well-defended city.

Why the Muslim Empire Succeeded

Several factors help explain the series of Muslim victories. One factor was the weakness of the Byzantine and Persian empires. The longtime rivals had fought each other to exhaustion. Many people also welcomed the Arabs as liberators from harsh Byzantine or Persian rule. Another factor was the Arabs' bold, efficient fighting methods. The Bedouin camel and horse cavalry mounted aggressive and mobile offensives that overwhelmed more traditional armies.

Another key reason for the Arab success was the common faith Muhammad had given his people. Islam united a patchwork of tribes into a determined and unified state. Belief in Islam and certainty of paradise for those who fell in battle spurred Arab armies to victory.

Conquered People Under Islamic Rule

The advancing Arabs brought many people under their rule in Asia, North Africa, and beyond. These Arabs imposed certain restrictions and a special tax on non-Muslims, but allowed Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians to practice their own faiths and follow their own religious customs within those restrictions. Early Umayyads did not attempt to convert these non-Muslims, because the tax supported the Arab troops who settled in conquered areas. As Muslim civilization developed, many Jews and Christians played key roles as officials, doctors, and translators.

Illustration of a merchant tending a shop counter and customer, in front of shelves with many jars and bottles, in a building with decorated walls and arches.

A Jewish apothecary, or pharmacist, dispenses medicine in a Spanish market. What does this tell you about life in Muslim regions?

Muslim leaders prohibited looting and destruction of conquered lands, ensuring continued wealth and prosperity for the empire in the form of tribute and taxes. However, the rulers also urged Arab settlers to stay separate from the native populations, which created an Arab upper class throughout the empire.

In time, many non-Muslims converted to Islam. Some converted to gain political or economic advantages. However, many were drawn to Islam's simple and direct message, and they saw its triumph as a sign of God's favor. Many of the nomadic peoples in North Africa and Central Asia chose Islam immediately. Unlike some religions, Islam had no religious hierarchy or class of priests. In principle, it emphasized the equality of all believers, regardless of race, gender, class, or wealth. In later centuries, Turkish and Mongol converts helped spread Islam far across Asia.

Impact on North Africa

The Islamic presence in North Africa—or the Maghrib, as early Muslims called the region—led to rapid change. Arab Muslims destroyed Carthage and built a new city called Kairouan, which became known as a holy city of Islam.

They built many mosques throughout North Africa. Many of the peoples of North Africa who quickly converted to Islam, including the Berber people, also adopted some Arab customs.

The Development of Slavery

The growth of the Muslim Empire into North Africa in the 7th and 8th centuries helps to explain the development of the slave trade. In some cases, Muslim conquerors enrolled their captives in their armies. Over time, Muslim Arabs, increased the number of slaves purchased and seized in West Africa. These enslaved people were then transported across the Sahara and then sold in North Africa.

This trans-Saharan slave trade developed and expanded even further during the 10th to the 15th centuries during the rule of the West African kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, which you will read about in Lesson 6. This lucrative trade added to the great wealth of these kingdoms.


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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