The Arab-Islamic Empire: Emergence, Establishment & Expansion

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  • 0:01 Islam
  • 0:45 Emergence & Conquest
  • 1:50 Golden Age
  • 2:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will trace the emergence of the Arab-Islamic Empire. It will focus on the Islamic faith, the rule of Abu Bakr, and the Golden Age of Islam under the Abbasid Dynasty.


For those of us who have grown up learning all about the separation of church and state, the idea of an empire based on religion seems a bit odd to us. However, that is exactly what this lesson will be about as we discuss the Arab-Islamic Empire. As we do this, we'll explore the fundamental role that Islam has played in the history of the Arab world.

Since the 7th century emergence of the Islamic faith, a religion based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, politics and religion on the Arabian Peninsula have usually been intertwined as one. Followers of Islam really see no divide between religious and political authority. In fact, Muhammad was not just a religious leader; he was a political one as well. In other words, he held ultimate authority.

Emergence & Conquest

When Muhammad died with no son to succeed him, Muhammad's father-in-law, Abu Bakr, was chosen as his successor. With this, Bakr was given the title of caliph, or an Islamic political and religious leader.

During the reign of Bakr, Islam's influence spread quickly throughout the Arabian Peninsula and into the world. Much of this was due to the fact that many of the early Muslim leaders believed that war should be waged against those who were outside of the Islamic faith. These holy wars, known as jihads, were used to expand the power of Islam.

These jihads soon led to Islam defeating the powers of the Byzantine Empire to take over Syria around the year 640 AD. With the Byzantine Christians on the run and with the world realizing Islam was a force to be reckoned with, the emerging Arab-Islamic Empire controlled most of North Africa by about 642 AD. Making their military prowess even more impressive, they were able to conquer the once mighty Persian army of modern day Iran around the year 650 AD.

Golden Age

With a bit of the empires military conquests under our belts, we'll now discuss the Abbasid Dynasty, which ruled the Arab world from about 750 AD to 1258 AD. It was this empire that really saw the Arab-Islamic world take off as a center of culture and power.

Unlike the caliphs that came before them, the Abbasids' focus was not on conquering new lands. Rather than war, they were more interested in trade. With this, they moved the capital of their empire to Baghdad and succeeded in making it a bustling center of commerce and trade.

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