The Early Caliphs and Dynasties of Islam

After the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, died in 632 the Muslim government called the Caliphate became the leader of the Islamic Empire. The first 4 caliphs are known in Islaic history as the Rashidun Caliphate, meaning the “Rightly Guided Caliphs”. They were all closely related to Muhammed and were known for their leadership and Muslim piety. During their reigns, despite the challenges and instability they had to deal with, the caliphate grew from being a purely Arabian power, into the largest empire up to that point in world history covering territory from Egypt in the West to Persia in the East. 

The first of the Rashidun Caliphate was Abu Bakr, and led from 632-634. Abu Bakr was known as “The Truthful”. He successfully stopped rebellions in the region and firmly established the Caliphate as the ruler of the region. The second caliph was Umar ibn al-Khattab who ruled from 634-644. He greatly expanded the Islamic Empire and successfully took control of the Middle East and neighboring regions such as Egypt, Syria, and North Africa. The third caliph was Uthman from 644-656 who established an the official holy book of Islam, the Quran. The last caliph was Ali ibn Abi Talib who ruled from 656-661 and was known for his wisdom and speeches.

Ali was assassinated in 661 and shortly after the The Umayyad Dynasty took control of the Islamic Empire. Under this dynasty, the empire expanded rapidly to include parts of  Northern Africa, Western India, and Spain. At its peak, it was one of the largest empires in the history of the world. The Umayyad unified the empire through several efforts such as making Arabic the official language and establishing common money and system of measurement. 

In 750, The Abbasid Dynasty overthrew the Umayyad Dynasty. The reign of the Abbasids marks a period of scientific discovery and achievement. This period is referred to as the Islamic Golden Age. During this time many technological and artistic achievements in science, math, medicine, education, and art were made. In 1258, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, Damascus, was sacked by the Mongols and the caliph was killed. After this, the Abbasids moved to Egypt and reestablished the caliphate. However, from this point forward the caliphate had little political power.