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The early years of the Muslim community

This map is part of a series of 7 animated maps showing the history of Origins of Islam and the Arabo-Muslim Empire.

Islam is a monotheist religion which emerged in the Arab peninsula at the beginning of the 7th century. At the time, this desert region was inhabited by Arab tribes which were mostly polytheist, although some were Jewish or Christian, and thus monotheists. 

This new religion began with a revelation to Muhammad, who was originally from Mecca.

Muhammad is considered by Muslims to be a prophet, the last of the great prophets after Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

The revelation received by Muhammad was later transcribed by his disciples in the sacred book of Muslims, the Koran.

In Mecca, there was the Kaaba, a temple dedicated to the divinities of the polytheists, which attracted large groups of pilgrims. Considering them a threat to business, the city’s rich merchants disapproved of the preachings of Muhammad and subsequently, in 622, they forced him to flee with his companions to the oasis of Yathrib, later known as Medina.

This date marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar which divides the year into twelve lunar months totalling 354 or 355 days.  

In Medina, Muhammad organised his community and laid down the precepts of his new religion. Thus, in 624, he decided that believers would no longer say their prayers facing Jerusalem, but would turn towards the Kaaba, the temple in Mecca which was thought, according to Muslim tradition, to have been founded by Abraham.

Muhammad took up arms against his opponents. After several battles, he was victorious over his enemies in Mecca and forced several tribes to support him, including some which were Jewish. 

On the death of Muhammad, in 632, a decision had to be made regarding the community’s future political leadership. Rather than choose the Prophet’s son-in-law Ali, the leadership was given to one of his companions, Abû Bakr, who became the first caliph, that is to say the first successor to Muhammad.

Abû Bakr’s position was challenged by a major revolt led by the Bedouins, who refused to pay taxes and were ready to abandon Islam. This uprising was crushed and a large part of Arabia came under Muslim domination.

Following the death of Abû Bakr in 634, another companion of the Prophet, Omar, took power.  The second caliph launched new conquests. He was assassinated after reigning for ten years in 644.

Uthman became the third caliph.  He arranged for a single official version of the Koran. He was assassinated as well in 656.

Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, succeeded Uthman but, upon his rise to leadership, quarrels within the community developed into a civil war known as the Fitna.

Ali’s supporters became the Shi’ites, a separate branch of Islam alongside the Sunnites.

This situation was resolved by an arbitration which forced Ali to transfer power to Mu‘āwiyah, the governor of Damascus. Refusing to accept this decision, some of Ali's supporters turned against him and formed a third branch of Islam, the Kharijites. A Khariji assassinated Ali in 661.

Mu‘āwiyah took the title of caliph and moved the capital to Damascus. He then established the first Muslim dynasty, the Umeyyads.

According to the Sunnite Muslim tradition, the first four caliphs, Abû Bakr, Umar, Uthmân and Ali are known as the “Rightly Guided Caliphs”or the Rashidun Caliphs