“How do you explain the rapid expansion of Islam in the early centuries of its existence?”
Coupled with ideal social and contextual conditions, the early rapid expansion of Islam in the first few centuries of its existence can be attributed to two main elements: religious conversion of unbelievers and military conquest of opponents of Islam. According to some historians, the analysis of this period of formative Islamic history has been neglected. This essay will seek to evaluate both elements of the expansion and, if possible, provide a conclusion as to which can be regarded as the main reason for the rapid expansion of Islam, or whether there was a successful combination of both methods.
Muhammad, the founder and prophet of Islam, began sermonising his visions in Mecca in 610CE. Within a quarter of a century he had gained control of the entire Arabian Peninsula and Islam was being widely and rapidly accepted. The Islamic realm expanded very quickly and very broadly after the death of Muhammad (632CE) through the success of both conversion and military conquest. By 650CE the controlling influence of Islam was felt all throughout the Arabian Peninsula, the entire Fertile Crescent (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine) and also in Egypt. By the early eighth-century, Islam had come to rule over a vast area, ranging from China and India in the Far East, to Northern Africa and Spain in the West; Islam had been “transformed from the badge of a small Arab ruling class to the dominant faith of a vast empire that stretched from the western Mediterranean into Central Asia.” Given this context, we must now seek the answer to why this expansion was so rapid and so vast.
The social situation and undercurrent of those living in and around Mecca just prior to the rise of Muhammad perhaps gives us some preliminary insight as to why Islam was allowed to flourish so fantastically in the years following. In his Christianity and Islam, W.R.W. Stephens provides a summary...