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Posted on by uqra  

The following “timeline” is divided into periods that make sense from an internal Islamic perspective.  For a comparative timeline (between Jews, Christians, and Muslims)

Significant terms are in small caps/bold

Dates are given in relation to the common era and the Hijra

I.  THE AGE OF THE PROPHET (610-632 CE/12 BH-10 AH)
Muhammad was an Arab tribesman, by training a shepherd and merchant. He was born (circa 570 CE) and lived in the city of Mecca, a prominent trade and market city in the western Arabian peninsula.  At age 40 (610 CE) he began receiving visions (mostly auditory, occasionally visual) from the prophet Gabriel (Jibril) instructing him to bear the message of god (Allah) to his fellow Arabs:  a message of strict monotheism, atonement, and judgment in an afterlife.  All aspects of this new religious discipline centered on spiritual submission (Islam) to God. Muhammad was the prophet of this message of religious truth.

Muhammad’s first followers were his relatives, his wife Khadijah and his son-in-law Ali, and other friends and relatives; the townsfolk of Mecca were not receptive.  Muhammad and his followers were forced to flee opposing forces in Mecca in 622 CE.  This flight from Mecca to Yathrib (later called medina) is known as the Hijra (flight/immigration), year 0 in the Islamic calendar.  Muhammad gathered a following in Medina, and by his death had converted much of Arabia (by persuasion or military conflict) to Islam united into a single community (umma).

At his death, Muhammad left a collection of sayings delivered to him by Jibril, called the Recitation (Qur’an), which were collected and arranged after his death.  After his death other traditions of Muhammad’s life and custom (sunna) were also collected, into narrative lives and collections of sayings and stories (hadith).

Abu Bakr, a friend of Muhammad’s, took control of the umma as Muhammad’s deputy (caliph).  He was followed, in succession, by a series of men who had been Muhammad’s companionsUmar, who extended the umma into Egypt, Syria, and Palestine (held by the Byzantine empire) and defeated the Persian empire (later converted to Islam, as well); Uthman, who established Islamic rule in north Africa, Cyprus, and central Asia.

Following internal strife after Uthman’s assassination, rival caliphs arose:  Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, and Muawiyyah, a relative of Uthman.  Ali reigned as caliph until his death in 661 CE/40 AH, at which time the umma was reunited under Muawiyyah, who made his capital at Damascus.  This is considered the beginning of the Umayyad dynasty.  Partisans of Ali (Shiat Ali) insisted that leaders of Islam must be holy men (imams), descendants of Muhammad through Ali and Muhammad’s daughter: this eventually developed into the Shi’i movement. 

III.  THE CALIPHATES  (661-935 CE/40-323 AH)
The Umayyad caliphate (661-750 CE/40-132 AH)
Ruling from Damascus in Syria, the first caliphate extended the Islamic umma from the Indus river in the east to northern Spain in the west.  Conversion to Islam by subject populations was allowed, but protection was also ensured for protected populations (dhimmi), the “peoples of the book” (Christians and Jews). Although increasingly military and political in their orientation, the caliphs still remained nominal guardians of Muhammad’s umma.

Dissatisfaction with ineffectual caliphs led to occasional uprisings by partisans of Ali (Shi’ites) and more puritan Islamic purists (Kharajites) who argued that the leader of the umma should be the best Muslim, not the most effective political ruler.

During this period, elaborations of jurisprudence (fiqh), law (shari’a), and custom (sunna) began to emerge as ways of maintaining and regularizing Islamic life throughout the far-flung umma.

The Abbasid caliphate (750-935 CE/132-323 AH)
Eventually the weakened Umayyad dynasty fell to the Abbasids, who established an even more authoritarian monarchy centered in the new capital city of Baghdad.  Occasional resistance from Kharajites and Shi’ites continued; often courted by Abbasid rulers as an influential party, the failure of the Shi’ites to obtain control of the umma eventually led them to a more underground political existence.

As a political and cultural center, Baghdad became the home of schools of Islamic law patronized by the Abbasid caliphs, and shari’a took hold as a standard of Islamic political and religious existence (although Islamic jurists could also serve as an important check on the power of the caliphs). Religion and culture flourished in Baghdad, even as the caliph became increasingly autocratic in his rule.

More esoteric forms of Islamic identity began to arise during this period: public and private mystical meditations (Sufi), rationalist philosophical speculation (falsafah), messianic movements (Ismaili and Imami Shi’ites) that increased the spiritual and theological scope of Islamic communities.

Weakened by external and internal strife, the Abbasid dynasty slowly collapsed during the tenth century; although many kingdoms still nominally recognized the central authority of the caliph over the umma, real religious and political power became localized. 

V.  MEDIEVAL ISLAMDOM (935-1300s CE/323-700s AH)
The kingdoms
Two of the earliest kingdoms to break free from Abbasid control were the Umayyads in Spain or al-Andalus (these Umayyads were related to the first caliphate), who created shining centers of cultural and religious learning in Cordova and Toledo (later remembered by Islamic and Jewish inhabitants as a “golden age“); and the Fatimids in Egypt, who established the first successful and thriving Shi’i kingdom from their capital in Cairo.

A series of Sunni (mainstream) and shi’ite kingdoms arose throughout the near east and western Asia under various local rulers (amirs), but the first successful dynasty to hold the near east was the sultanate of the Seljuks, a Turkish population from central Asia that converted to Islam in the tenth century. A Sunni kingdom, they managed to create a military dynasty from through Syria, Palestine, parts of Turkey, and western Asia, as well as the holy cities (Mecca and Medina). 

The attacks
Outside forces, as well as internal strife, weakened these major kingdoms in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  The Umayyad kingdom of Spain fell to more severe Islamic groups moving northward from Africa: first the Almovarids and then the Almohads, who greatly restricted the cultural and religious variety of al-Andalus.  Eventually Christian kingdoms to the north preyed on weakened al-Andalus, until Islamic presence was reduced to the small kingdom of Grenada by the thirteenth century.

The eastern kingdoms were subject to attacks from the west and the east during this period.  First, in the eleventh century, western Europeans launched the crusades against Islam, nominally to liberate the holy places from “infidels” (although they also attacked Jews and Byzantine Christians).  The power of the eastern Muslims was greatly weakened.  Eventually a Muslim general managed to dislodge the Christian forces in the twelfth century, and conquered the disintegrating Seljuk and Fatimid kingdoms (and imposed Sunni Islam in Egypt).  This general was Saladin, who established the Ayyubid dynasty from Egypt to Baghdad.

The second great military attack in the east came in the thirteenth century from an east Asian group of military nomads:  the Mongols, who systematically swept from China to Turkey, conquering most of Asia through unimagined devastation.  Militarily catastrophic, but religiously tolerant, the Mongol kingdoms of Asia eventually converted to Islam, and weakened in the course of the fourteenth century.

Also in the thirteenth century, revolt in Egypt led to the overthrow of the Ayyubids and the rise to power of a slave caste, the Mameluks, who controlled Egypt and Arabia.

The innovations
During this period of political upheaval and military devastation, central components of unifying Islamic identity were (perhaps paradoxically) strengthened:  legal schools established coherent standards for fiqh (jurisprudence) and shari’a (common law), and philosophy and mysticism (falsafah and Sufism) flourished throughout the Islamic world.

VI.  THE AGE OF ISLAMIC EMPIRES (1400s-1700s CE/800s-1100s AH)
Eventually the Mongol and Mameluk kingdoms weakened, and by the fourteenth century new Eurasian Islamic empires began to coalesce utilizing the latest innovations in military technology (gunpowder).

The ottoman empire emerged from a ruling clan in Turkey, which capitalized on the collapse of the Mongol kingdoms to unify Turkey, Arabia, Palestine, and Egypt into a massive, highly centralized empire. Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, the last remains of the ancient Roman empire, in 1453; changing the name to Istanbul, they made it their capital.  They managed to maintain control of much of this land until World War I.

The Safavid empire emerged from a Persian military leader who embraced Shi’ism and imposed strict shi’ite belief onto his subjects; Shi’i, which had for much of the medieval period remained a nonpolitical, esoteric movement, was thus transformed into a “state religion” (and until today, Iran, the old heart of the Safavid empire, remains the stronghold of Shi’i Islam).

The Moghul empire emerged as a Sunni refuge from the Shi’i reforms of the Safavids: an empire run on the militaristic bureaucratic system of the Mongols was created in central Asia and the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, which grew throughout the sixteenth century into a flourishing, multireligious empire. At its height, it stretched from the Himalayas to encompass almost the entire subcontinent, and Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Muslims lived under the same Islamic state.  More entrenched conservative Islamic rule weakened this brief religious pluralistic empire. 

VII.  MODERN AND GLOBAL ISLAM (1700s CE-present/1100s AH-present)
All three empires were dramatically weakened by a surprising new cluster of superpowers:  the nation-states of western Europe.  British “commerce” (eventually imperial rule) in India weakened and eventually eliminated Moghul rule, while the Ottomans and Safavids found themselves outgunned and outmanned by industrialized western diplomats and armies.  The catastrophe of World War I proved the inability of the Muslim empires to conform to this change of affairs, and suddenly the powerful empires of Islam, grounded in agricultural and military rule, found themselves subject to the new imperial powers of the west, based in commerce and new bureaucracies.

After World War I, much of the old Islamic empires were placed under partition by European imperial forces; the ancient centers of Islamic power–Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Jerusalem–were now the sites of western imperial politics.  Western centers of knowledge production (universities) derided the Muslims as “easterners” or “Orientals,” dismissing them as premodern and incapable of self-rule.

Western imperialism itself began to collapse in on itself, most dramatically in the interwar period (1919-1939), culminating in the catastrophes of world war II.  From the ashes of old empires emerged new nation-states in Europe and Asia. For Muslims, these meant an uncertain division of “politics” and “religion,” an unprecedented innovation in the history of the umma.

secular” states emerged in Turkey and Iran, often with brutally enforced separation of political and religious life. “Islamic” nations emerged (often with the military or financial support of western powers) in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt (where the tension between secularism and Islamism proved irresolvable). The creation of the Zionist state of Israel polarized the Islamic middle east, while the creation of Islamic Pakistan polarized southern Asia.

The tensions of “globalism” and “modernization” have led to extreme reactions and conflicts: the Shi’i revolution in Iran ousted the brutally secularizing Shah in 1979; “Islamism,” reform movements dedicated to de-westernizing and purifying Islamic life, have emerged throughout the Islamic world; new “ethnic” nationalism in central Europe has redefined existence for European Muslims in former Yugoslavia; and thinly veiled religious rhetoric has informed the most recent international conflicts between (and amongst) western and eastern powers. 





2000 BCE

A g e  o f  A b r a h a m  a n d  a n c e s t o r s (?)

1300 BCE

Exodus from Egypt (?)



1000 BCE

Founding kingdom of Israel (?)



900 BCE

Division of kingdoms of Israel and Judah



722 BCE

Fall of kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians



586-538 BCE

Babylonian exile



533-333 BCE

yehud under Persian rule



300-200 BCE

Ioudaia under Egyptian Greek (Ptolemaic) rule



200-164 BCE

Ioudaia under Syrian Greek (Seleucid) rule



154-63 BCE

Hasmonean kingdom



circa 30 CE


Crucifixion of Jesus


50-60 CE


Mission of Paul


70 CE.

Destruction of second temple



132-35 CE

second Jewish war



circa 150 CE


Last new testament documents written


200 CE

Writing of the Mishnah

Christians subject to sporadic persecution by Romans


313 CE


legalization of Christianity by Constantine the great


390 CE


Christianity made “state” religion of the roman empire


425 CE

Palestinian Talmud written



circa 550 CE

Babylonian Talmud written



circa 570 CE



Birth of Prophet Muhamed(PBH)

circa 600 CE


Gregory “the great” consolidates the authority of the pope


600s-700s CE

Rabbinic academies established near Babylon



622 CE



Hijra (migration to Medina)

632 CE



Death of Prophet Mohamed (PBH)

630s-730s CE



Expansion of Islamic empire (from Persia to Spain)

661-750 CE



Umayyad dynasty rules from Damascus

732 CE


Battle of poitiers

First major biography of Mohamed(PBH) (ibn Ishaq)

750-1258 CE



Abbasid dynasty rules from Baghdad; Spain secedes from caliphate and remains an Umayyad Islamic state

800 CE


Charlemagne crowned “emperor of the Romans” by the pope

(801):  Death of Rabiah, female mystic

800s CE

Rabbinical academies established in Baghdad



800s-1000s CE

Rise of Karaism (anti-rabbinism) throughout middle east



ca. 900-1171 CE



Fatimid dynasty rules in Egypt

1050s CE

Rabbinism predominates among European Jews; Rashi writes talmudic commentaries

schism between catholic and orthodox churches


1096-1350 CE

crusades l a u n c h e d  a c r o s s  E u r o p e  a n d  i n t o  t h e  m i d d l e  e a s t

1180s-1190s CE

Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides), Jewish philosopher


Abu al-Walid Ahmad ibn Rushd (Averroes), Islamic philosopher

1200s-1400s CE

Jews systematically expelled from western and central European countries, migrate eastward to Poland and Russia

Mongol “hordes” devastate Asia, from China to Turkey; establish four kingdoms, eventually convert to Islam

1215 CE


Fourth Lateran Council under Pope Innocent III


1280s CE

Circulation of Zohar, rise of Kabbalah mysticism

Height of catholic scholasticism (1274: death of Thomas Aquinas)


1378-1415 CE


great schism“:  rival popes sit in Rome and Avignon

Rise of the ottoman empire from Turkey throughout eastern Mediterranean

1453 CE


ottoman Muslims conquer Constantinople; transform it into Istanbul, capital of the ottoman empire

1492 CE

S p a n i s h  reconquista d r i v e s  Jews a n d  Muslims f r o m  t h e  I b e r i a n  p e n i n s u l a

1500s CE



Shi’i Safavid dynasty established in Persia/Iran; Mughal (Sunni) dynasty established in India

1517-1600s CE


Protestant reformation transforms European Christianity; culminates in the 30 years war (1618-1648) over religious affiliation


1560s-1600s CE

Revival of Kabbalah mysticism; publication of rabbinic legal codes among Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews



1665-1666 CE

Shabati Zvi starts messianic movement (Sabbateanism)



1700s CE

Rise of Hasidism in eastern Europe

European enlightenment

Wahhabi reform movement in Saudi Arabia

1780s CE

Moses Mendelssohn initiates Jewish enlightenment (Haskalah)

constitutional movement in U.S. institutes church/state separation


1791 CE

Limited emancipation of Jews in German states; French revolutionary government grants full citizenship to Jews


Rise of European colonialism in Asia and Africa; first Islamic reform movements coalesce

1820s-1870s CE

reform movement emerges in Europe, along with responses (conservative and orthodox movements); final emancipation of Jews in most of Europe by end of century

Rise of Mormon (LDS) and other new Christian movements in U.S.; rise of “higher criticism” and fundamentalism

Rise of nationalism and modernization in middle eastern nations; British imperial control of India; French control of north Africa

1840 CE

Damascus blood libel



1890s CE

Zionist movements form



1920s CE



Collapse of ottoman empire; Pahlavi dynasty established in Iran; Egyptian independence

1932 CE



Kingdom of Saudi Arabia founded

1940s CE



Rise of Muslim brotherhood in Egypt

1939-1945 CE

Shoah (Nazi holocaust) decimates European Jewry


Emergence of independent Islamic nation-states in Africa and Asia

1948 CE

State of Israel founded



1965 CE


second Vatican council “modernizes” Catholicism


1967 CE

six-day war


six-day war

1979 CE



Iranian revolution

1990-1991 CE



Persian gulf war

2001-present  CE

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