Saylor.org's Ancient Civilizations of the World/The Arabian World and the Birth of Islam
In the Seventh Century CE, Islamic civilization burst forth from the deserts of Arabia, an area of the world long left unconquered due to the harsh climate. Before the advent of Islam, the Arabian desert was home to nomadic bedouin tribes. In a matter of decades, the fierce warriors of Arbaia would expand the new Islamic civilization with dizzying speed. Unique to this new civilization was the centrality of the new religion of Islam to all aspects of life---political, cultural, social. From desert origins, the faith of Muhammad would forever change the world.
Background to Islam
Although the Arabian peninsula was never ruled by the Roman Empire, many bordering regions had been, including the Anatolian peninsula, Syria, Judea, Egypt and Mesopotamia. After the fall of the Roman Empire, these regions became a fault line between the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire of the Sassanian dynasty. Although western parts of the Persian Empire were mainly occupied by Christians or Jews, the official religion of the Empire was that of Zoroastrianism. The difference between the religions of these two bordering empires caused further frictions and during this period, skirmishes between the two were not uncommon. The largest of these wars occured in 602 CE when the Byzantine Empire was caught completely unprepared and Syria, Palestine and Asia Minor were overrun. By 628, the tide had turned and the Byzantines slowly recaptured their lands. Yet, through all of this, Arabia, due to its inhospitable climate, remained untouched by the two competing empires. Occasionally, Byzantines and Persians sought alliances with arab tribes and warlords for an extra source of soldiers.
The basic structure of arab society remained that of clans and tribes. Clans were close family units that offered protection and assistance to their fellow members and a tribe was a collection of clans.