The Islamic World to 1600
There are differing opinions about whether or not Muhammad designated his successor before his death. One group of his followers claimed at the time, and continues to believe today, that Muhammad named his son-in-law, Ali, as his successor. For this group, known today as Shi'ites, their belief that Ali was the rightful claimant to the leadership after Muhammad's death sparked centuries of disagreement with the other main group in Islam, the Sunnis. The schism between the Sunnis and Shi'ites remains a major issue in the Islamic world.
|Sunni vs. Shi'a|
Regardless of whether or not Muhammad chose a successor, Ali did not become the first caliph. The title went to Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad's fathers-in-law (he had 10 wives) and close friend, who was chosen by the community to lead them as the "deputy" of God. One of the first problems Abu Bakr faced as caliph was a rapid renunciation of the Islamic faith by many Arab groups. As we saw in Chapter 1, these groups, known as the Bedouins, were present in the Arabian Peninsula before the coming of Islam. Many of them had converted to Islam under Muhammad, but the faith had not yet been strongly accepted by them by the time of Muhammad's death. The Bedouins abandoned Islam and refused allegiance to Abu Bakr, in a revolt known as the Ridda.
After several small battles with the Bedouins, the Muslim forces finally crushed the Ridda in 633. This conflict with the Bedouins demonstrated the fragility of the new faith and convinced Abu Bakr that with the Arabian Peninsula under Muslim control, Islam needed to expand past it. At this time, there were two empires on Arabia's borders, both of which Abu Bakr saw as a threat to Islam: the Sassanid Empire, which ruled much of Persia and Iraq, and the Byzantine Empire, which ruled southern Europe, Syria, and Egypt, and which had naval control of the Mediterranean Sea. Abu Bakr declared a jihad against the Christian Byzantines in Syria, but he was unable to carry out the invasion. He died in August, 634, only two years after taking power.
During his brief reign as caliph, Abu Bakr took important first steps toward spreading Islam beyond Mecca and Medina, the cities of its origin. His successful fight against the Bedouins claimed the entire Arabian Peninsula for Islam, and his declaration of hostility against the Byzantines and Sassanids, who surrounded Arabia, set the stage for his successors to spread Islam beyond the Arabian Peninsula. By 634, the foundations were in place for the rapid expansion of Islam, which would occur under the next three caliphs.
|Proceed to Umar|