How did Islamic civilization spread to encompass such an extensive empire? What practices or methods were used to spread Islam? I am in AP World History and cannot figure out how to do this thesis, and I need help with a thesis for a DBQ essay!  

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In order to respond to the prompt with a direct, concise thesis, I recommend "flipping" the prompt into a sentence starter. A strong thesis could begin, "Islamic civilization spread to encompass such a large empire through _________."

Although I don't have the exact documents you need to reference in your DBQ, there are some overarching ideas that will likely guide you in the right direction.

Religious and Political Conquest

As with most any civilization, Islamic civilization was significantly spread through military power. Strong armies, as well as a strong Muslim belief in spreading the faith, led to the conquering of many surrounding areas and lands.

Peaceful Conversion

While religious fervor was sometimes expressed through militaristic action, it could also be used for peaceful conversion. This brought many people (and their lands) into the empire.

Strong Governance

Islamic civilization was also known for having strong governments. These governments kept the empire stable while also taking care of their citizens. Islamic governments were also generally tolerant of the ways of life of the people they conquered, so rebellions were less of a threat.

Scientific Excellence

Islamic civilization was highly advanced in science, medicine, and engineering. This provided for better transportation, infrastructure, and care for the citizens living within the civilization. Better engineering also means more effective military operations and connections between far parts of an empire.

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One important aspect to consider is what was happening in the lands that were incorporated into the Islamic Empire at the time. Prior to the conquest, much of North Africa was under Byzantine Rule. In the seventh century, the Byzantine Empire was a shadow of its former self. It had been weakened by prolonged wars with the Persians as well as internal political divisions. It just did not have the power or organization to put up much resistance in the face of repeated Islamic invasions.

Like the Byzantines, the Persians were also at a weak point in their history. The decades of warfare against the Byzantines had left Persia's military weak and their economy on the verge of collapse. To make matters worse for tit, the Arabs attacked while Persia was embroiled in a brutal civil war. It was too divided to properly resist this outside threat and soon crumbled.

Given this, you may be able to argue that the Arabs were successful because, unlike their opponents, they were mostly united in their cause. Meanwhile, their foes were weak and suffering from internal divisions. In many ways, this was good timing on the part of the Muslims. If the Byzantines and Persians had been at their full strength, it is not so certain that the Muslims would have been so successful.

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First, how you approach a DBQ essay depends heavily on the particular documents that are selected. A DBQ essay should grow organically out of the materials you are provided. Attempting to start out with some sort of generic thesis and then blindly apply it before having read and analyzed the specific documents is the opposite of what is required. 

Instead, the point of this sort of assignment is doing focused reading in order to pick out common themes in a set of documents. If the documents you are reading are primarily religious ones, such as excerpts from the Koran, you might build a thesis around how Islam promised a good afterlife to the devout and how this was contrasted with the harsh and difficult life of desert nomads. If you are reading excerpts from the History of the Prophets and Kings, you might look at ways that Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari illustrates the military prowess of Islamic leaders and their organizational strategy for consolidating their victories. 

Whether you argue for religious, military, or political/adminstrative factors as central to the spread of the Islamic empire depends on the particular documents you are reading.

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A thesis for a DBQ essay about the reasons Islam spread might be the following: Islam spread to encompass an extensive empire through conquest and peaceful conversion. After Mohammed's death in 632 CE, faithful Muslims waged wars to spread their faith beyond the Arabian peninsula. People in the Near East were worn down after a long war between the Byzantine and Persian Empires and were willing to accept another ruler, and the Muslim armies quickly captured Syria, Persia, and Egypt.

Once they conquered a new territory, Muslims established an efficient governmental bureaucracy that aided in the conversion of the conquered people. Those who converted to Islam were not subject to a tax that was levied on non-Muslims. In addition, many were drawn to the promise of salvation for all believers in Islam, no matter what their origins or former beliefs. Muslim conquerors also permitted a great deal of tolerance for Jews and Christians and allowed non-Muslims to participate in the government and financial life of the conquered territory.

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Of course, DBQ answers depend heavily on documents, which we do not have in front of us.  Please be sure that you look at the documents and try to ensure that you use points from each of them.

In general, we can argue that Islam spread for a variety of reasons.

  • Military power.  Much of Islam's spread was through conquest.  While Muslims did not enforce conversions, their conquering brought their faith to new people and did so in a situation where conversion was often in the best interests of those people.
  • Religious fervor.  Some of the military power was due to the fact that Muslim warriors were motivated not just by normal factors but also by a belief in the holiness of their cause and the idea that they would be rewarded in the afterlife if they died.
  • Good government and tolerance.  Most empires (like the Roman empire) can only succeed if they keep their subjects relatively happy.  The Muslims brought decent government and prosperity to their subjects and they were relatively tolerant.  This made their rule less onerous and allowed them to spread.

So a thesis ought to include the idea that there were a variety of causes for Islam's spread, including military, governmental, and religious factors.

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