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About Islam:

IX

 

THE SPREAD OF ISLAM

Since its inception Islam has been perceived by Muslims to be a universal code. During Muhammad's lifetime, two attempts were made to expand northward into the Byzantine domain and its capital in Constantinople, and within ten years after Muhammad’s death, Muslims had defeated the Sassanids of Persia and the Byzantines, and had conquered most of Persia, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. The conquests continued, and the Sassanian Empire was soon after destroyed and the influence of Byzantium was largely diminished (see Byzantine Empire). For the next several centuries intellectuals and cultural figures flourished in the vast, multinational Islamic world, and Islam became the most influential civilization in the world.

 

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Shia Islam

The followers of Ali were known as the Shia (partisans) of Ali. Although they began as a political group, the Shia, or Shia Muslims, became a sect with specific theological and doctrinal positions. A key event in the history of the Shia and for all Muslims was the tragic death at Karbala of Husayn, the son of Ali, and Muhammad's daughter Fatima. Husayn had refused to recognize the legitimacy of the rule of the Umayyad Yazid, the son of Mu’awiyah, and was on his way to rally support for his cause in Kūfah. His plans were exposed before he arrived at Kūfah, however, and a large Umayyad army met him and 70 members of his family at the outskirts of the city. The Umayyads offered Husayn the choice between a humiliating submission to their rule or a battle and definite death. Husayn chose to fight, and he and all the members of his family with him were massacred. The incident was of little significance from a military point of view, but it was a defining moment in the history of Shia Islam. Although not all Muslims are Shia Muslims, all Muslims view Husayn as a martyr for living up to his principles even to death.

The Twelver Shia, or Ithna-‘Ashariyya, is the largest of the Shia Muslim sects. They believe that legitimate Islamic leadership is vested in a line of descent starting with Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, through Ali's two sons, Hasan and Husayn, and then through Husayn's descendants. These were the first 12 imams, or leaders of the Shia Muslim community. The Shia Muslims believe that Muhammad designated all 12 successors by name and that they inherited a special knowledge of the true meaning of the scripture that was passed from father to son, beginning with the Prophet himself. This family, along with its loyal followers and representatives, has political authority over the Shia Muslims.

 

 

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