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Big Era Five: Landscape Unit 5.2

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Afroeurasia and the Rise of Islam
600 - 1000 CE

Why This Unit?

The study of religions in world history and geography courses is a basic requirement in every state’s academic standards, just as it is a major feature of the National Standards for World History. The importance of studying the origins, beliefs, practices, and spread of religion is a matter of consensus because this subject has contemporary relevance. Also, religious movements have been enormously significant in human history. Religious beliefs and practices have brought forth traditions and institutions that have shaped urban and rural life, built empires, and contributed to trade, literacy, and scientific development. Religious movements have influenced conflict and cooperation on many levels, and stimulated migration and travel.

The rise and spread of Islam in the seventh and following centuries CE profoundly affected large parts of Afroeurasia. This topic offers students an opportunity to study several interlinked historical processes. The story of the origins of Islam itself reaches as far back into the history of Southwest Asia as human settlement itself, since Muslims believe that the revelation given to Muhammad during the seventh century was only the final one in a continuous sacred exchange reaching back through all of the biblical prophets to Adam and Eve. The story also includes the rise and fall of empires from Mesopotamia to the Romans and Persians, and the rapid expansion of territory under Muslim rule under the early caliphate and the Umayyad Dynasty. The spread of Islam is a distinct phenomenon that historians relate to rapid advances in urbanization, the growth of trade networks in Afroeurasia, and a series of migrations. Islam also gradually spread as a faith and way of life among the populations of a region extending from the Iberian Peninsula to the borders of China. Not until about four centuries after the conquests of Southwest Asia, North Africa, and parts of Inner Eurasia did Islam become the majority faith of the population in those regions. Even then, religious diversity remained a hallmark of those societies matched only in modern multicultural societies like the United States.

This unit traces the rise of Islam, its spread, and the development of Muslim civilization. It also addresses its impact on Afroeurasia as a whole.

Unit Objectives

Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:

1.) Locate the Arabian Peninsula and the bodies of water and landmasses adjacent to it. Identify important cities such as Jerusalem, Makkah (Mecca), Madinah (Madina), Damascus, Baghdad, Constantinople, Cairo, Cordoba, and Samarkand.

2.) Describe the basic beliefs and practices of Islam, including the Five Pillars and explain their relationship to Muslim life, culture, and civilization.

3.) Distinguish between the rapid expansion of territory under Muslim rule and the gradual spread of Islam among various societies.

4.) Analyze the relationship between the spread of Islam and the use of the Arabic language in scholarship and trade.

5.) Identify social and political institutions that emerged in Muslim society in response to religious practices, and give examples of diverse ways in which these institutions manifested themselves in different regional traditions.

6.) Relate the spread of Islam to the expansion of trade in Afroeurasia from the seventh to the sixteenth centuries CE.

7.) Compare primary sources and relate them to geographic information about interregional trade relations in Afroeurasia.

8.) Relate the spread of Islam to the expansion of urbanization in Afroeurasia from the seventh to the twelfth centuries CE.

Time and Materials

These lessons take 3-5 class periods to complete.

Table of Contents

Why This Unit?


Time and materials


Unit objectives




The Historical Context


This unit in the Big Era time line


Lesson 1: Primer on Islamic Beliefs and Practices


Lesson 2: The Spread of Islam


Lesson 3: The Impact of Islam in Afroeurasia, 632-1000 CE


Lesson 4: Rules of the Road and Laws of the Sea


This unit and the Three Essential Questions


This unit and the seven Key Themes


This unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking




Conceptual links to other teaching units


Correlations to National and State Standards


Complete Teaching Unit in PDF Format



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