Arab Culture and Civilization: A collaborative web project from NITLE
Musharaka [ Cooperation ]  Calligraphy by Khaled Al-Saai


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Introduction | Early Islam | Islamic Dynasties | Ottoman Empire | 20th Century |

This timeline is designed to provide an overview of the history of the Arab World from just before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad through the end of the twentieth century.

This chronology begins with historical events occurring shortly before the appearance of Islam in both North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, but that should not be interpreted as the beginning of the region’s recorded history. There is evidence of the origins of agriculture in Mesopotamia (in present-day Iraq) as early as 7000 BCE, when the region had a significantly wetter climate, encompassing both forests and grassland as well as an abundance and great variety of cultivable plants and domesticable animals. Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city on Earth, was founded around 6000 BCE. In 3500 BCE, urban and written culture began with Sumerian settlements in Mesopotamia, and in 3200 BCE, Menes, who united Upper and Lower Egypt, became the first Pharaoh. Construction of the pyramids began in 2600 BCE. Following this already rich historical legacy, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, and many others also left their imprints on the region.

While the specific contributions of all these civilizations are beyond the scope of this project, it is nevertheless important to be aware of them, since Arab culture did not emerge from a historical and civilizational vacuum. The genius of any great culture lies in its ability to build on and transform those that went before it, and Arabo-Islamic culture did just that.

Although information on the extent of Arab interaction with other cultures before the birth of Prophet Muhammad is rather limited, the progress of Arabization and Islamization through conquest, conversion, commerce and acculturation brought Arab culture into contact with many other cultures. Like all imperial civilizations, the Arabs were themselves influenced in many ways by the peoples they encountered in conquest and in trade. Furthermore, the spread of the Arabic language and Islam did not completely obliterate the cultures and languages already extant in the area, as is shown in the module Ethnicity and Identity. Because of the far-ranging impact of Arab culture, it is common to refer to the region which spreads from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east as the "Arab World," thus encompassing 21 countries, plus Palestine. The Islamic World spreads even further, extending deep into Africa, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe.

The rise of Arab civilization to prominence on the world stage was very much tied to the spread of Islam, beginning in the seventh century CE. Arabic, formerly a tribal language of the Arabian Peninsula, soon became the language of power and a lingua franca for a large section of the world, as Islamic culture flowed to the east and west. But, of course, the region now known as the Arab World has a history that predates the achievements of Arab civilization by thousands of years.

Throughout the timeline, links will refer visitors to other materials in this module and elsewhere in the course, as well as to useful information elsewhere on the Internet, which will provide greater detail on the history of specific events and their impact in the region. This should help to place the materials of the course modules in their historical context.

Much of Islamic history has been recorded by Muslims using the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar. It begins in 622 CE, with the Hijra (the migration of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina). Although the year consists of twelve months, these months do not correspond to the Gregorian (solar) calendar used in the Western and Christian worlds. The Islamic year has either 354 or 355 days, and the months are not intercalated. In other words, the Muslim months do not always fall in the same seasons but retrogress through the solar year and its seasons. More information about the Islamic calendar can be found here. This Timeline does not use the months of the Islamic calendar, but any dates can be easily converted at this website.

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