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Video transcript

here is a passage from the Scottish philosopher writer even a little bit of mathematics historian Thomas Carlyle and he wrote this in on heroes hero worship and the heroic in history and this is in reference to his view on Mohammed and the spread of Islam a poor shepherd people he's referring to the arabs before muhammad roaming unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world a hero prophet was sent down to them with a word they could believe see the unnoticed becomes the world notable the small has grown world great within one century afterwards arabia is at granada on this hand at delhi on that he's speaking of within a hundred years of Muhammad's death the Muslim Empire has spread from what would eventually be southern Spain all the way to northern India these Arabs the man Muhammad and that one century is it not as if a spark had fallen one spark on a world of what seemed black unnoticeable sand but lo thus and proves explosive powder blazes heaven high from Delhi to Granada I said the great man was always as lightning out of heaven the rest of men waited for him like fuel and then they too would flame and thomas carlyle is known as one of the proponents of the great man view of history that history is nothing but the story of a series of great men who changed the direction in which humanity travels so what we're going to do in this video is think about whether it really is all about a great man or were there other things that were in the context of the time and space in which these things occur this is what the world looked like in the year 600 Muhammad starts spreading his revelations in 610 and so you can see on this map there's two major powers the Byzantines which is the eastern Roman Empire the vest is of the Roman Empire and you also have the Sassanid Persian Empire the Byzantines are a Christian Empire and the sassanids are Zoroastrian and Muhammad is from the Quraysh tribe which is in charge of Mecca which is considered a pilgrimage site for the various tribes of Arabia but you can see that Arabia is fragmented and this doesn't even do justice to how fragmented it was but if you fast-forward 200 years you see a major change and in fact you wouldn't even have to go all the way to 800 even by the early 8th century you see that Islam has spread from the Iberian Peninsula all the way to the Indus and most of this as mentioned happens within a hundred years after Muhammad's death but let's ask our central question why did Islam emerge so rapidly where and when it did and there's no clear right or wrong answer here it's all going to be conjecture but that's what's fun about history we can think about what we think we know and then we can debate and think about are there some patterns here that we see over and over in history well what's the context so we know for a fact that Arabia was fragmented that the law of the land in Arabia was tribal and tribal justice and this is the world that Muhammad grew up in the various tribes often worshipping different gods we also know at this time that Muhammad had exposure to other religions some of which had penetrated the various tribes of Arabia most notably you have Christianity and Muhammad's wife's cousin was in fact a Christian and you also have Judaism these two clearly being related religions Christianity coming out of a Jewish tradition we also know that the two great empires here the Byzantines and Persian empires are in constant conflict and in fact the Arabs and many in the Middle East are the pawns in that conflict and so you have the Byzantines versus the Persians with the possibility of those living in their lands might not have been happy with either there's also the sense that we're at the very beginning of a long decline for the Byzantine Empire so one thesis could be that Mohammed was able to bring many of the ideas of Christianity and Judaism but these ideas helped to unify a fragmented Arab people and not only did it unify them but it gave them the energy that you can have through religious zeal and that energy is what allowed them not only to unify in Arabia and they're able to unify most of Arabia by the time of Muhammad's death but within a hundred years of his death they're able to take over the entire Sassanid Empire and make major inroads into the Byzantine Empire and so one argument might be and I encourage you to argue with me that they were unified they had this missionary zeal which perhaps was only seen in Christianity before Islam and they were able to take advantage of conflict and discontent between the Byzantines and Persians in order to spread now another question is do we see any patterns here are there any other examples in history of this happening well the most comparable religion is Christianity which is today larger than Islam but Christianity you have a long period between Jesus who is the central figure of Christianity who is the underlying spiritual figure and when Christianity really spreads and really becomes an empire and that really starts with Constantine roughly 300 years after the time of Jesus what's interesting about the example in this video the example of Islam in terms of the religion Mohammed plays a little bit of both of these roles he is a spiritual figure he has revelations but he is also the founder of an empire he also governs he is also a military and political figure and so perhaps for the first time in history on this scale you have the combination of religious zeal of spiritual belief of faith combined with governance combined with the desire to create an empire in terms of empire the only thing that might be comparable in terms of the vastness and the speed in which it happens is the Mongol Empire the Mongols are an example of people who are fragmented initially tribal unified by jenga's Khan and through that unification were able to spread incredibly rapidly and take on some long historic and possibly declining empires so I'll leave you there it's a fascinating question that historians debate to this day Aslam started awfully fast and spread awfully fast why did this happen was it some unique characteristics of Mohammed was it some unique characteristics of the religion or as Thomas Carlyle alludes to maybe this whole region was just waiting for something like this something to unify the tribes of Arabia and take on the decaying Byzantine and sassanid empires