A Concise History of the Middle East | Arthur Goldschmidt Jr

Summary of: A Concise History of the Middle East
By: Arthur Goldschmidt Jr

Introduction

Immerse yourself in the captivating history of the Middle East with Arthur Goldschmidt Jr.’s ‘A Concise History of the Middle East’. This book offers a comprehensive and engaging look into the political, cultural, and religious backdrop of the region. From ancient empires and conquests to the rise of Islam, the evolution of Arab identity, and the effects of foreign imperialism, this summary encapsulates the key highlights and themes of the book. Prepare to journey back in time and gain a deeper understanding of the foundations of the modern Middle East, delving into the origins of numerous conflicts that continue to resonate today.

The Rich History of the Middle East

The Middle East has been a hub of trade, commerce, and conquest since 3000 BCE. Situated between Europe, Asia, and Africa, the region has played a vital role in the exchange of goods and ideas. From the development of water management and engineering techniques to the refinement of monotheism and the advancement of Roman and Greek laws, the Middle East has significantly impacted Western civilization. The region’s influence extended beyond its borders with the development of Zoroastrianism and the spread of Persian art and culture to China and Western Europe. Despite enduring countless invasions, the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Middle East have held onto the memory of a time when their ancestors ruled most of the eastern Hemisphere and influenced humanity’s highest literary and scientific accomplishments. The Middle East remains a land of rich history and cultural exchange.

The Arab Way of Life

The Arab tribes were nomadic people who primarily relied on domesticated camels to move through the desert in search of water and seasonal resources, such as milk, meat, dates and bread. They lived in large family groups and formed councils of adult men to govern tribal affairs, including decisions about wars and peace. The Arab culture is rooted in a strong oral tradition of poetry that wove stories of tribal loyalty, bravery, hospitality, and promise-keeping. Despite their rich heritage, history has not always been kind to the Arabs, who have faced challenges through the ages. Although the word “Arab” can refer to many things, the Arab way of life has had a significant influence on language development, culture, and literature.

The Birth and Rise of Islam

Around 570 BCE an Ethiopian army attempted to conquer Mecca, which was then a successful merchant community. This is also the year that Muhammad, born into the clan of Hashim, was orphaned at six and brought up by Bedouins, particularly by an uncle who taught him the business of trading goods. Muhammad was a successful trader who married Khadija, a widow 15 years his senior, and had six children. Muhammad meditated and received his first revelation from the angel Gabriel in the year 610 during Ramadan. His message about God’s omnipotence, judgment, and benevolence slowly spread and he attracted followers known as “Muslims,” Arabic for “one who submits.” However, Mecca’s merchants saw Muhammad’s teachings as a challenge to their prosperity and feared the new religion would end pilgrimages to Meccan shrines. Opposition grew to Muhammad’s teachings in Medina as well, leading him to raise money for freedom by raiding desert caravans. His success in defeating a larger army at Badr in March 624 brought great propaganda value. In 627, Medina repelled an attack from Mecca, and eventually, Mecca’s pagan leaders succumbed to Muhammad, who made Medina the capital of a new state. After Muhammad’s death, rival tribes jockeyed for leadership, but Abu-Bakr became the caliph and eventually expanded the empire. The High Caliphate, ranging from China to Spain and North Africa, was militarily and economically strong, and its advances in agriculture, trade, and manufacturing helped build Islamic culture and commerce.

Five Obligations of Islam

Islam has five obligations known as the pillars of faith – Shahadah, Salat, Sawm, Zakat, and Hajj, which are binding on every Muslim. The Shahadah affirms the belief in one God and Muhammad as his messenger, while Salat involves routine prayer. Sawm denotes the ritual fasting during Ramadan, and Zakat is the act of giving charitable donations. It is mandatory for every adult Muslim to journey to Mecca, at least once to complete Hajj. Jihad comes as the sixth pillar having evolved over the centuries. Muslims perceive it as defending Islam against attackers and correcting Muslims who stray from the faith. Islam also prohibits the consumption of alcohol, gambling, usury, drugs, pork, gold, and silk.

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