How did contemporary circumstances contribute to the success of the early Muslims?
Medieval in the Close and Middle East is characterized by the collapse of former Hellenistic influence. Islam was the main reason of uniting all Eastern tribes and ethnos in one strong and powerful nation. Muslims spread their influence on many countries of this region and created Islamic world, which was united by new powerful religion which was the main aim of their life. Eastern civilization had very strong political power connected with Islam. Power was considered to be sacral gift given by Allah. Poor and rich people were convinced to cooperate, so there was no strong misunderstanding in Arabic society as it took place in medieval Europe.
Islam is the second most spread world religion now and scientists say that there are about 900.000.000 Muslims. Islam is a very popular religion and many people of other religions begin believing in Allah and Muhammad. Many modern problems are connected with this religion which had appeared and developed more than thousand years ago. Nowadays Islam is not only an important religion, but it is also an ideology of many nations; about 30 states in the world consider Islam as the main religion which is supported by the rulers and governments of those countries. Any usual religion cannot be as popular and wide spread as Islam is (accepting Christianity). This religion has an extremely interesting history which can help us to realize modern problems, such as international terrorism and religion hostility. To find this out we have to see how Islam was formed, what reasons helped this religion to become very popular and what were the results of spreading this religion in the East.
Muhammad ibn Abdullah (570-632) is the main person in Muslims history. He was a real man the same as our Jesus Christ and as Jesus he formed new religion. Muhammad was born in Mecca, one of the main trading centers of Western Arabia. Mecca was a prosperous city because all caravans going to the north came through this place. Also Mecca was famous for its sacral stone (meteorite) which was respected by all Arabs. Many statues of pagan gods stood there as well. Muhammad grew up in a very outdated country, uneducated and wild society. But when he grew up he married and visited Syria and this trip influenced him a lot because he communicated there with Christian monks, Jews. Their knowledge, their religions made him sure that only monotheistic religions can develop and have a success. Later Muhammad as Muslims believe, heard some Gods words and God (Allah) convinced him that he is Allah's Rasul -- prophet. Muhammad was a smart man and knew that polytheistic religion in Arabia would never give his nation a chance to create modern and developed country with educated society. Muhammad spread his believes and told people that there was the only God -- Allah and Muhammad was his prophet. He told them about heavens and hell, considered all monotheistic religions (Christians and Jews) as relative to Islam (he called own religion -- Islam -- which meant -- submission --, his followers were named -- Muslims -- ). So, the first reason of Islamic success is Muhammad's charisma, his talent and strong wish to change life in his country, because the main condition of good life he thought was united society.
People found Muhammad as Allah's last prophet: they admitted that Allah sent some of them before, for example Musa (Moses) or Isa (Jesus). But they believed that Jews and Christians didn't understand Gods will and Allah sent the last person -- Muhammad -- to give people real belief in real God. Muhammad told people that Allah doing this wanted them to use the last chance to choose the correct way, because after this last attempt all people would be judged and according to their deeds will be sent to heavens or to the hell. So, as we can see, Islam wanted people to follow some rules and be devoted to God, worship him and this was a great success because no one pagan religion could unite people and gave them new aim in their life, as Islam did.
He called his compatriots to pray Allah 5 times a day, pay tax to support the poor citizens (they paid 2,5% of their property but not income). This tax was a very important feature of Islam because poor people were the majority of Arabic society of those times, and this tax made rich and poor closer, it pushed them to cooperate and respect one another but not to fight. By the way, Islam was spreading among poor people much faster than among rich ones; it can be explained by Islamic theory of equality of any Muslim, whether he was rich or not. Muslims were allowed to have 4 wives and any number of concubines. All righteous men would live in the heaven and have there numerous eternally innocent girls who would gratify them and stay virgins. Sure that such perspectives attracted many people who didn't know even how to read and write (majority of population were wild tribes).
Muhammad wanted people to be honest and sincere, and also he told them that Allah had forbidden them to drink vine and eat pork; Muslims were not allowed to kill their children or eat them (it sounds terrible but it took place: hungry Bedouins when crossing the desert could kill or eat already dead own kids). As we can see, Islam was a very progressive religion; it could regulate people's relations and make their life much better. Some scientists say, for example Ira Lapidus in the book -- History of Islamic Societies -- that Islam was created as so-called mixture of Judaism and Christianity, but it was not that complicated as for example Judaism was. Muhammad knew that most of the population consists of illiterate peasants and wild tribes and they would never understand such religion. That's why he simplified Islam and as a result -- created such religion which was easy to understand; many people wanted to be Muslims because of many happy perspectives it proposed. Poor people wanted to be supported by the rich ones and be equal; rich people wanted to protect their property by new religion (and they did); tradesmen found Islam worth providing because of the fact that it called people to unite, that's why they could spread their trading relations. Also all Arabs valued such moment of this religion as possibility to have 4 wives and numerous concubines. Women according to this religion received different rights and her husband could not do everything he wanted, his power was lessened by Koran. Before wife was absolute property of a man and he could kill her, through out of his home, just simply do anything. Koran said that woman is created to please and be submitted to a man, but husband had to feed and dress his wife and take care of her and her children. This was a great progress in Arabs family relations. Also Muslims could not be slaves and if it happened that they were slaves -- their master had to free them anyway.
Another important reason of Islamic success is appeal to fight against people of -- wrong -- religions. It is written in Koran that every male Muslim has to fight against people of other religions 8 months a year, murder them, and capture their lands and property. Many historians admit the fact that Muslim movement appeared as a result of Arabs wish to capture more lands. Later Muslim leaders explained that jihad (holy war) should be waged against polytheistic religions but they respected Jews and Christians as they were very relative religions. But medieval Islam was simpler, more understandable for the majority of Arabs (farmers and nomads).
These reasons and particularities of Islam made its spreading among Arabs easy and fast. Increasing of political and economical strength, Meccan monks support, captured fantastic treasures which attracted greedy and poor Bedouins, satisfaction of men anger (both: sexual -- polygamy and social -- jihad) -- all these reasons ensured Muslim success and provided millions of followers everywhere in Arabia and bordering regions. Very soon Islam became the main religion in the Close and Middle East; it was the main reason of forming a new state -- Arabic Caliphate. Islam created a new civilization which was much more progressive than European one. Arabs were famous for great achievements in medicine, literature, mathematics and many other sciences. Arabs taught wild Europeans to wash their hands and bodies, to eat with knife and fork. This is a bright example of Islamic influence and its results.
But there were many problems in Muslim society as well. The main is that Islam is divided in two main movements which have many followers: Sunnites and Shiites. This split took place long ago, after Muhammad's death when political situation in Caliphate was very uneasy. Huge territories united by one religion had some differences…