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Iraq in History; Part Two: Islam and the Big Rift PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 27 December 2004 00:00
THERE are very few events more interesting and more dramatic in the history of Man than the rise and spread of Islam. In 622 AD, the prophet Muhammed was fighting for his life in Mecca with a small band of devoted followers. A century later the Muslims fired with the message he delivered and his own teaching had reached half the then known world. Islam and the teachings of the prophet has performed a great miracle, they have weld band of peasants and predatory warriors and brigands in Arabia into a compact nation, which swept away ancient kingdoms and brought under one dominion an area nearly as large as that of the roman empire at the peak of its  power.

ONE of the most remarkable aspects of the new religion was the simplicity of the message, there is one god, the same deity who had earlier revealed himself to Jesus and the other Jewish prophets, god is all-powerful, he creates and sustains the world, he is marvelously and supremely good, and benevolent towards those who responded to his presence and power and obeyed his orders, expressed in worship alms giving and self purification. And that message came in Arabic, and the Islamic conquests spread the remarkable, virile, flexible and picturesque language through the new domains, what had been once the tongue of a group of Arabian tribesmen became the language of a powerful empire.

THE theological simplicity and legal specificity of the  message carried a high degree of intrinsic persuasiveness and appealed very strongly and sat very easily upon the simple desert dwellers, also the astonishing successes of the early years of Islam convinced them that there was evidently a supernatural power which was guiding and guarding the believers so they came flocking into the new faith and within a very short time Islam has  become THE religion and was a most effective force in driving the faithful into very impressive successes.

DURING the days of the Prophet Muhammad the society functioned efficiently, fairly and extremely justly, the Prophet was in addition to his religious duties the secular leader of the society and his orders were obediently followed, they were regarded as emanating from the creator himself. When he died there was a problem with the succession which threatened the very survival of the new faith but it was solved very neatly by selecting a Khalifa “successor”. The successors  were chosen from amongst his closest companions and earliest converts. A process which went on fairly smoothly until the third khalifa, Othman died in 656 AD, at that time the  natural choice was Ali, the prophet’s cousin, his  son in law who has lived and learned in his house and was one of the earliest converts to islam and  because of his wisdom, intelligence and strength of character but his choice  was not universally accepted it was challenged by Syria’s Governor Muawiya who belonged to one  of Mecca’s most powerful and influential families the Umayads on the basis that Islam is not a monarchy and that the khaliphate is not a hereditary institution. Muawiya’s led challenge  was supported by the military garrison in Syria which was mainly Arab, Ali’s support came from Iraq whose people has invited him to  move there and and defend his right for the succession led to five years of disorder during which the two military garrisons refused to fight each other and finally Ali’s supporters became disgruntled and turned against him, he was ultimately assassinated in 661 AD near today’s An Najaf and was buried there in a place which is regarded by the hundreds of millions of his  followers as most sacred and a revered shrine.

MUAWIYA was then the only claimant to the caliphate after which he was able to establish in Damascus an empire were khalifas from the Umayyad dynasty ruled until AD750 AD. But the quarrel with iraq and serious internal problems and dissent has already weakened the umayads very badly and made them an easy prey for an onslaught by another very powerful meccan clan the Abbasids who were able to topple them and end their rule of  almost a hundred years.

THE struggle between Ali and Muawiya opened a very serious rift in Islam, its reverberations have been felt over the centuries until today.
ISLAM was divided into Sunnis who adhered to the Quranic diktats and the Hadiths and those who followed Ali and supported him became known as Shi’a.

Dr. Najeeb Hanoudi
Baghdad Dec, 27, 2004
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