What we know as Islam today began around 610 when Muhammad began receiving the revelations that would become the Qur'an. Muhammad's message, that there is no God but Allah, was not welcomed in all quarters as Mecca was a great religious center and destination for pilgrims of all sorts; a place where gods, temples and shrines abounded. (Some say that religious pilgrimages were big business in the Mecca of Muhammad's time.) By 622, Muhammad and his followers were forced to move from Mecca to Medina. This event, called the Hegira divides the Muslim calendar into AH and BH much as BC and AD divide the Christian Calendar. Eventually Muhammad and his forces became powerful enough to retake Mecca and cleanse it of idols. Islam expanded under Muhammad's military and spiritual leadership and really flowered after his death although not without some internal struggles. Islam grew to dominate much to the Mediterranean world under a succession of empires and Caliphs.

In addition to being a religious system, Islam is a political system. It is common in the West to say that Islam was spread by the sword. It is equally common for the Muslims to deny that and point to the verse in the Qur'an that says:

"Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects Taghut (evil or idulatry) and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trust worthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things (Qur'an 2:256)."

That does not settle the argument but neither is that argument the focus of this page. The following map and the time line show how political Islam spread to become a world empire.  Rome had fallen to the Gauls in 476 and the Christian West was a collection of warring parties.  They Byzantine empire continued in the Christian East. 

This time line pulls together religious and political events many of which overlap. Wars of conquest are seldom neat and tidy which is why this sort of timeline will always be a little confusing, especially if you try to show both sides. Wars of conquest are also the way that empires are built but without much initial dialogue with the vanquished. The subsequent dialog is the way that old cultures intermix and new ones develop.

Decolonization has only been the rule since the end of World War II prior to that time there were many who marched across the world trying do dominate it for various reasons. There were also those who tried to prevent that march as a matter of self defense. This time line represents some of both groups. Rather than focusing solely on Muslim expansion it brings in other forces that acted to thwart it. As with all empires, this one had a time of expansion, a golden age and a time of decline.

Califate Map

Date Event
C 570-571 Muhammad born near Mecca
610 until his death on June 8, 632 Qur'an revealed to Muhammad by God through the angel Gabriel
622 The Hegira—due to local resistance to his message Muhammad and his followers move from Mecca to Medina. This event marks the beginning of Muslim time and is the basis of their calendar.
622-632 Expansion to the Arabian peninsula under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad.
632–750 Rise of the caliphate and Islamic civil wars
632-661 Rashidun Caliphs Expansion West across Egypt and Libya and East across Iran.
656-661 The First Fitna (Islamic Civil War)
661 Qur'an collected in to the final form we have today. The Uthmanic recension.
661-750 Umayyad Caliphate - Expansion across North Africa to the Atlantic and into Spain and Portugal. East to present day Pakistan.  Becoming the 3rd largest empire in the history of the world.
c. 680/683 -
c. 685/692
The Second Fitna (Islamic Civil War)
685 The Shia were loyal to Ali, Mohammad's son-in-law, the husband of His favorite daughter. Ali does ascend to the Califate, but only briefly.  After Ali's death Shia and Suni are divided and remain so to this day.
711 Moorish invasion Muslim people from North Africa invade the Iberian peninsula.
711-1238 Reconquista Visigoths in Spain and Portugal try to assert independence from Muslim rule.
732 Battle of Tours - also called the Battle of Poitiers and, by Arab sources, the Battle of the Palace of the Martyrs. Ended Muslim expansion into Europe. Fought between Frankish and Burgundian forces under Charles Martel against an army of the Umayyad Caliphate.
744–750/752 The Third Fitna - The word fitna does not necessarily mean all out war but can mean instability. This period of instability in the Umayyad Caliphate included the many Umayyad civil wars and the larger Abassid Revolt, which would later lead to the collapse of the Umayyads as rulers of the Muslim Caliphate.
750–1258 Golden Age of Islam
After the Caliphate falls apart a succession of other independent Islamic states expand and contract under both internal and external pressure.
750-1517 Abbasids
800 Holy Roman Empire founded - this was an attempt to restablish the Roman Empire in the West.
809-827 The Fourth Fitna - The Great Abbasid Civil War
1030–1918 TurkishIranian and Indian empires
1040-1147 Almoravids
1095-1291 The Crusades - The Europeans try to "liberate" Jerusalem from Muslim rule.
1204 Bakhtiar Khilji led the Muslim conquest of Bengal, marking the eastern-most expansion of Islam at the time.
1206-1294 Mongol invasion Genghis Khan and the boys come out of Mongolia and take much of Europe and the Northern part of Muslim lands.  This empire was the largest ever world empire. See Mongol Empire.
1206-1526 Delhi Sultanate - Centered mainly in Delhi and stretched over large parts of the Indian subcontinent. In 1526 the Sultanate fell, to be succeeded by the Mughal Empire.
1299-1918 Ottoman Empire
1309-1377 The Avignon Papacy
1526 Mughal Empire - Called Gurkani by its inhabitants  - was an empire in the Indian subcontinent, established and ruled by a Muslim Turco-Mongol dynasty of Chagatai origin from Central Asia.  was Persianate in culture, with local influences. The Mughal empire extended over large parts of the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan. The empire at its peak was the second largest to have existed in the Indian subcontinent, spanning 4 million square kilometres at its zenith.
1453 Ottoman Empire under Mehmet II conqueres Constantinople putting an end to the Byzantine empire.  
1918–present Modern times 
The Ottoman Turkish empire was the last Islamic empire to fall due largely to the pressure of World War I.  The 1918 date corresponds to the beginning of World War I. The Republic of Turkey was proclaimed in 1932; the last vestige of the Ottoman Empire.


Modern Times

There are still wars and rumors of war but the sort of empire building that characterized the politics of the world prior to the twentieth century appears to be over. The following map shows the distribution of the Muslim population over the world. This expansion has been due largely to migration and missionary activity.


Muslim population map