Undergraduate History Coursework


How and why did Islam spread from the time of Mohammad until the 8th century CE? What techniques did Muslims use to rule, and what problems did they face?





Introduction. 2

How and why Islam spread from the time of Mohammad until the 8th century CE. 2

Techniques used by Muslims to rule. 4

Problems encountered by Muslims during the spread of Islam.. 5

Conclusion. 6

References. 7



The spread of Islam is one of the most spectacular cultural contact experiences in the history of the world. Islam originated in the Arabian Peninsula before spreading across the Middle East and later on to Asia, Africa, and Europe. This religion appealed to people of different cultures and societies for different reasons. In many cases, the religion merged with traditional belief systems at the local level. From the time of Prophet Mohammad, Islam compelled new contacts through conquests, missionary activity, and far-reaching trade.

The spread of Islam was a gradual but constant process.[1] This is an amazing phenomenon given the diverse cultural and geographical backgrounds involved during this spread. Two dominant patterns were discerned during this spread. First, Islam spread to some cultures primarily against the backdrop of military conquests. The second scenario was one where spontaneous conversions occurred because of cultural and religious contact. Many people loved the religion because it clearly stipulated what one could do or could not do. The aim of this paper is to investigate how and why Islam spread from the time of Mohammad until the 8th century CE. The paper also outlines the techniques that Muslims used to rule as well as the problems they encountered.

How and why Islam spread from the time of Mohammad until the 8th century CE

Prophet Mohammad was born in about 570 CE. His divine inspiration drove him to generate the basic tenets of the world’s newest religion at the time. This religion started spreading among the Arab people, who led a nomadic lifestyle. From time to time, the Arabs would engage in trade. This enabled them to interact, mingle, and cement a well-established cultural system. It is around this time that the Roman Empire collapsed, thereby leading to state of confusion within the small states that constituted the Mediterranean civilization. This state of confusion extended to religious issues since there were numerous religions at that time, with the dominant ones being Christianity and Judaism.

Muhammad felt that the Arab culture needed to be reorganized and a formidable starting point would be the establishment of a new religion. This religion would be founded upon a perfected version of Christian and Jewish thinking. Consequently, Islam emerged as a highly rigorous system that provided a clear framework of duties that all believers needed to partake to gain salvation. These responsibilities were outlined in the Qur’an, which was composed by Muhammad under Allah’s inspiration. The Qur’an also outlined succinct regulations for all aspects of life including family life, wealth, marriage, trade, and physical wellbeing.

According to Islamic principles, rulers were required to be the most formidable defenders of the religion.[2] This requirement turned out to be one of the biggest enablers in the spread of Islam. Indeed, Islam was highly dependent upon state support. It also depended a lot on the efforts of legal philosophers and scholars who provided interpretations of doctrines and law at the local level while at the same time administering a system of Islamic courts.

By the time Muhammad died in 632 CE, Islam had started spreading rapidly in the Arab world. This turn of events turned out to be a major uniting factor for Arabs, thereby enabling them stage conquests. Arab armies quickly spread their influence across the Middle East, Persia, and North Africa, leading to the popularization of Islam in the process. Mohammad’s successor promptly established a loosely-controlled central government in the Arab heartland that stretched from West Asia to North Arica. By the 8th century, conquests by Arabs had gradually turned into a general spread of Islam across the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe and Asia.

Techniques used by Muslims to rule

Arab Muslims had to contend with a lot of hatred from Christians particularly in Europe. European Christians identified Islam as a powerful rival that posed a serious threat to the future of their belief system. To survive this hostility, the Muslims were careful to establish critical contacts in different pockets of minimal resistance. In Spain, for instance, Muslims managed to use this strategy to make critical conquests soon after the rapid sweep across North Africa during the 7th century.[3]

Conquests constituted the most dominant method used by Arab Muslims to rule over other people and to entrench their religion. There are many examples of such conquests. In 632, many battles were fought in different parts of the Arabian Peninsula with the core objective of not just cementing Muhammad’s political leadership but also promoting allegiance to Muslim values. In 638, Muhammad’s lieutenants captured the city of Jerusalem. By 642, the conquests had spread to southern Iran, Egypt, and Syria. The blend of political and religious reasons greatly contributed to the rise of an unwavering resolve by Arab Muslims to conquer new territories and to spread the religion.

Unlike in Christian territories, no distinction could be made between state and religion in the Muslim world. Both during and after Prophet Muhammad’s death, the Muslim community was headed by people who also played the role of controlling society as a whole. In this context, Muslims often chose to view non-Muslims simply as non-tolerated dependants. They were often left alone to organize their lives under the overriding control and protection of the wider Muslim community.

Problems encountered by Muslims during the spread of Islam

Muslims encountered serious problems during Prophet Muhammad’s era and soon after his death. One of them was the state of lawlessness in the conquered nomadic and agrarian territories. The Islamic institutions that Muhammad established were designed with this challenge in mind. They were designed in such a way that they provided practical expressions of virtually all aspects of the life of the quintessential Muslim Arab life. All Arabian customs that were satisfactory according to Islam were readily accepted. However, with the new conquests, it was extremely difficult for the same relationships to be established between the rulers and the ruled particularly in the agrarian lands. This is simply because most of the customs that had been integrated into Islam were applicable only to the nomadic Arab’s way of life. This necessitated the commencement of activities aimed at replacing local customs to bring them in tandem with those of the new religion.

As years went by, the task of replacing the existing feuding system with one that was founded on the Islamic philosophy proved to be highly problematic. In fact, this turned out to be the central problem during the spread of Islam during the 8th century. Islamic crusaders favored a common life since it would make it easy for the institution of a single arbiter to be established. Nevertheless, it was extremely difficult to bring common discipline among the lawless occupiers of the newly conquered territories.

Going by Muhammad’s teachings, such a situation necessitated the establishment of a framework for central distribution of funds for the disadvantaged as well dispute settlement based on a moral standard that was divinely sanctioned. The Muslims also defined the role of a military commander, who would be the binding authority for all Arabs in times of war or the march to new pastures. However, it is worthwhile to note that although Qur’an endorsed the concept of a community, it did not provide for any government other than that of Prophet Mohammad himself. This demonstrates the seriousness of the problem at the point where the Muslims felt the need to contravene Qur’an’s requirements by establishing the position of the military commander.


In conclusion, Islam spread as a practical response to the challenges faced by Arabs living a nomadic lifestyle in the Arabian Peninsula. During Prophet Muhammad’s time, the need for Islam as a new faith became even more urgent following the collapse of the Roman Empire. This collapse had led to widespread uncertainty and confusion within small states that had contributed to the Mediterranean civilization. Islam spread across the Middle East and in North Africa primarily through conquests but in some cases also through missionary activity and far-reaching trade. To rule effectively, Muslims had to devise new systems of governance in the newly conquered territories amid hostility, suspicion, and opposition from Christian communities. To deal with the problem of lawlessness, Muslims relied on Muhammad’s teaching and instructions outlined in the Qur’an in efforts to establish a framework for distributing funds to the disadvantaged, settling disputes, and defining a binding authority.



Armstrong, Karen. Muhammad: A prophet for our time. Boston: HarperCollins, 2006.

Margoliouth, David. Mohammed and the Rise of Islam. New York: Cosimo, 2006.

Sardar, Ziauddin and Davies, Merryl. The No-nonsense Guide to Islam. New Internationalist Publications, 2004.

[1] Armstrong, Karen. Muhammad: A prophet for our time. Boston: HarperCollins, 2006.

[2] Margoliouth, David. Mohammed and the Rise of Islam. New York: Cosimo, 2006.

[3] Sardar, Ziauddin. and Davies, Merryl. The No-nonsense Guide to Islam. New Internationalist Publications, 2004.

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