Islam, the Quran, and the Five Pillars All Without a Flamewar: Crash Course World History #13

October 6, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


Hi there, I’m John Green, this is Crash
Course: World History and today we’re going to talk about Islam, which like Christianity
and Judaism grew up on the east coast of the Mediterranean but unlike Christianity and
Judaism is not terribly well understood in the West. For instance, you probably know
what this is and what this is, you probably don’t know what that is. Google it. Mr. Green Mr. Green why do you think people
know so little about Islamic history? Did you just ask an interesting non-annoying
question, me from the past? I think we don’t know about early Islamic history because we
don’t learn about it, me from the past, because we don’t learn about it, because
we’re taught that our history is the story of Christianity in Europe, when in fact our
history is the story of people on the planet, so let’s try to learn something today. [theme music] So in less than 200 years Islam went from
not existing to being the religious and political organizing principal of one of the largest
empires in the world. And that story begins in the 7th century CE
when the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad, a 40-ish guy who made his living as a caravan
trader and told him to begin reciting the word of God. Initially, this freaked Muhammad out, as,
you know, it would—but then his wife and a couple of other people encouraged him and
slowly he came to accept the mantle as prophet. A few things to know about the world Islam
entered: First, Muhammad’s society was intensely tribal. He was a member of the Quraysh tribe,
living in Mecca and tribal ties were extremely important. Also, at the time, the Arabian peninsula was
like this crazy religious melting pot. Like most tribal Arabs worshipped gods very similar to the
Mesopotamian gods you’ll remember from episode 3. And by the time of Muhammad, cult statutes
of many of those gods had been collected in his hometown of Mecca in this temple-like
structure called the Kaaba. But Arabia was also a home for monotheisms
like Christianity and Judaism, even a bit of Zoroastrianism. So the message that there
was only god wouldn’t have been like as surprising to Muhammad as it was, for instance,
to Abraham. Also, and this will become very important,
the northern part of Arabia was sandwiched between the Byzantine Empire and the Persian
Sassanian Empire—and you’ll remember, those guys were always fighting. They were
like snowboarders and skiers, or like the Westboro Baptist Church and everyone else. At its core, Islam is what we call a radical
reforming religion—just like Jesus and Moses sought to restore Abrahamic monotheism after
what they perceived as straying, so too did Muhammad. Muslims believe that God sent Muhammad as
the final prophet to bring people back to the one true religion, which involves the worship of,
and submission to, a single and all-powerful God. The Quran also acknowledges Abraham and Moses
and Jesus among others as prophets, but it’s very different from the Hebrew and Christian
bibles: For one thing it’s much less narrative,
but also its the written record of the revelations Muhammad
received—which means its not written from the point of view of people, it is seen as
the actual word of God. The Quran is a really broad-ranging text,
but it returns again and again to a couple themes. One is strict monotheism and the other
is the importance of taking care of those less fortunate than you. The Quran, says of
the good person spends his substance—however much he himself
may cherish it—upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer,
and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage. These revelations also radically increased
the rights of women and orphans, which was one of the reasons why Mohammad’s tribal
leaders weren’t that psyched about them. To talk more about Islamic faith and practice,
let’s go to the Thought Bubble. The five pillars of Islam are the basic acts
considered obligatory, at least by Sunni Muslims. First is the shahada or the profession of
the faith: There is no god but god and Muhammad is God’s
prophet, which is sometimes translated as “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad
is Allah’s prophet”, which tries to make Muslims sound other and ignores the fact that
the Arabic word for god—whether you are Christian or Jewish or Muslim—is Allah. Second, salat, or ritual prayer five times
a day—at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and late evening—which are obligatory unless
you haven’t hit puberty, are too sick, or are menstruating. Keep it PG, Thought Bubble. Third, sawm, the month-long fast during the
month of Ramadan, in which Muslims do not eat or drink or smoke cigarettes during daylight
hours. Since Ramadan is a lunar-calendar month, it
moves around the seasons, and obviously it’s most fun during the winter, when days are
shorter, and least fun during the summer, when days are both long and hot. Fourth is zakat, or almsgiving, in which non-poor
Muslims are required to give a percentage of their income to the poor, and lastly hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that
Muslims must try to fulfill at least once in their lives, provided they are healthy
and have enough money. And there’s also more to understanding Islam
than just knowing the Quran. Like Judaism with its Talmud, and Christianity with its
lives of saints and writings of Church fathers, Islam has supplementary sacred texts, chief
among which is the hadith, a collection of sayings and stories about the Prophet. Thanks Thought Bubble. Oh, it’s time for
the open letter? Magic. An Open Letter to the 72 Virgins. Oh, but
first let’s check what’s in the Secret Compartment. Huh, it’s Andre the Giant.
Did you know that Andre the Giant died a virgin- is a fact that I made up? Dear 72 Virgins, Hey there, it’s me, John Green. Did you
know that not all hadiths were created equal? Some sayings of the Prophet are really well
sourced. like for instance, a good friend or a relative heard the Prophet say something
and then it ended up as a hadith. But some hadiths are terribly sourced like,
not to be irreverent, but some of it is like middle school gossip; like Rachel told Rebekah
that her sister’s brother’s friend kissed Justin Bieber on the face. And the vast majority of Muslims don’t treat
terribly sourced hadiths as scripture. And the idea that you go to heaven and get
72 virgins is not in the Quran; it’s in a terribly sourced hadith so it is my great
regret to inform you, 72 Virgins, that in the eyes of almost all Muslims you do not
exist. Best wishes,
John Green One more thing about Islam: Like Christianity
and Judaism, it has a body of law. You might have heard of it – it’s called sharia. Although we tend to think of sharia as this
single set of laws that all Muslims follow, that’s ridiculous; there are numerous competing
interpretations of sharia, just as there are within any legal tradition. So people who embraced this worldview were
called Muslims, because they submitted to the will of God, and they became part of the
umma, or community of believers. This would be a good moment for an Uma Thurman
joke, but sadly she is no longer famous. I’m sorry if you’re watching this, Uma Thurman. Being part of the umma trumped all other ties,
including tribal ties, which got Muhammad into some trouble and brings us, at last,
back to history. So as Muhammad’s following in Mecca grew,
the umma aroused the suspicion of the most powerful tribe, the Quraysh. And it didn’t matter that Muhammad himself
was born into the Quraysh tribe because he wouldn’t shut up about how there was only
one God, which was really bad news to the Quraysh tribe because they managed the pilgrimage
trade in Mecca, and if all those gods were false, it would be a disaster economically. —although come to think of it, in the end the
Meccan pilgrimage business turned out just fine. So the Quraysh forced Muhammad and his followers
out of Mecca in 622 CE, and they headed to Yithrab, also known as Medina. This journey, also know as the hijra, is so
important that it marks year 0 in the Islamic calendar. In Medina, Muhammad severed the religion’s
ties to Judaism, turning the focus of prayer away from Jerusalem to Mecca. Also in Medina, the Islamic community started
to look a lot more like a small empire than like a church. Like, Jesus never had a country
to run. But Muhammad did almost from the beginning.
And in addition to being an important prophet, he was a good general and in 630, the Islamic
community took back Mecca. They destroyed the idols in the kabaa, and
soon Islam was as powerful a political force in the region as it was a religious one. And it’s because the political and religious
coexisted from the beginning, that there’s no separate tradition of civic and religious
law like there is in Christianity and Judaism. very different from Judaism and even from
Christianity—which you’ll remember debated very different from Judaism and even from
Christianity—which you’ll remember debated for generations whether to be inclusive. —and more importantly than separating Islam
from other monotheisms, that really separated Islam from the tribalism in Arabia. So then when Muhammad died in 632 CE, there
wasn’t a religious vacuum left behind: Muhammad was the final prophet, the revelation of the Quran would
continue to guide the umma throughout their lives. But the community did need a political leader,
a caliph. And the first caliph was Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law, who was not without
his opponents: Many people wanted Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law,
to lead the community. And although he did become the fourth caliph, that initial disagreement — to
radically oversimplify because we only have ten minutes — began the divide between the
two of the major sects of Islam: Suuni and Shi’a. And even today, Sunnis Muslims believe Abu
Bakr was rightly elected the first caliph and Shi’a Muslims believe it should’ve
been Ali. To Sunnis, the first four caliphs—Abu Bakr,
Umar, Uthman, and Ali— are known as the Rightly Guided Caliphs, and many of the conservative
movements in the Islamic world today are all about trying to restore the Islamic world
to those glory days, which—like most glory days—were not unambiguously glorious. Abu Bakr stabilized the community after Muhammad’s
death, and began the process of recording the Quran in writing, And started the military campaigns against
the Byzantine and Sassanian Empires that within 116 years would allow the Islamic Empire to
go from this to this. His successor Umar was both an uncommonly
good general and a brilliant administrator but like so many other great men, he proved
terrible at avoiding assassination. Which led to the caliphate of Uthman, who
standardized the Quran and continued both his predecessor’s tradition of conquest
and his predecessor’s tradition of getting assassinated. Then Ali finally got his turn at caliph, but
his ascension was very controversial, and it ultimately led to a civil war. Which eventually led to the emergence of Uthman’s
tribe, the Umayyads, as the dynasty ruling over an ever-expanding Islamic Empire for
more than a hundred years. It’s common to hear that in these early
years Islam quote spread by the sword, and that’s partly true, unless you are — wait
for it — the Mongols. Actually, as usual, the truth is more complicated:Many
people, including the Mongols but also including lots of people in Central and East Asia, embraced
Islam without any military campaigns. And in fact, the Quran says that religion
must not be an act of compulsion, but this much is true: The early Islamic empire was
really good at winning wars. And situated as they were between two very
wealthy empires—the Byzantines and the Sassanians—there was plenty to fight for. First to fall was the Sassanians, the last
non-Muslim successor to the Persian Empire. They were relatively easy pickings because
they’d been fighting the Byzantines for like 300 years and were super tired. Also
they’d been recently struck by plague. Plague, man, I’m telling you; It’s like
the red tortoise shell of history. But in those early days they did pry away
some valuable territory like Egypt and the holy land and eventually they got into Spain. Where various Muslim dynasties would entrench
themselves until being expelled in 1492. But as a good as they were at making war,
it’s still tempting to chalk up the Arabs’ success to, you know, the will of God. And certainly a lot of the people they conquered
felt that way. Wars in this part of the world didn’t just pit people against each other,
they also pitted their gods against each other. So while the Islamic Empire didn’t require
its subjects to convert to Islam, their stunning successes certainly convinced a lot of people
that this monotheism thing was legit. Once again, John Green proving super hip to
the slang of today’s young’ns. Also, you paid lower taxes if you converted,
and just as taxes on cigarettes lead to people not wanting to smoke, taxes on worshiping your idols
lead to people not wanting to worship them anymore. So in a period of time that was, historically
speaking, both remarkably recent and remarkably short, a small group of people from an area
of the world with no natural resources managed to create one of the great empires of the
world and also one of its great religions. And that very fact may be why people of
Western European descent remain largely ignorant about this period. Not only were the Muslims great conquerors,
they spawned an explosion of trade and learning that lasted hundreds of years. They saved many of the classical texts that
form the basis of the “Western Canon” while Europe was ignoring them and they paved
the way for the Renaissance. While it’s important to remember that much
of the world between Spain and the Indus River wasn’t Arabized, most of it was so thoroughly
Islamized that these days we can’t think of the world we now call the Middle East without
thinking of it as Islamic. Perhaps the greatest testimony to Islam’s
power to organize peoples lives and their communities is that, in Egypt, 5 times a day millions of
people turn away from the Pyramids and toward Mecca. Egypt, birthplace to one of the longest continuous
cultures the world has ever known, is now the largest Arab country in the world. Next week we’ll talk about the Dark Ages.
Spoiler alert: they were darkest in the evening. Thanks for watching and we’ll see you next
time. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history
teacher Raoul Meyer and myself and our graphics team is Thought Bubble. Last week’s Phrase of the Week was “They
Might Be Giants”. If you want to guess this week’s Phrase of the Week or suggest future
ones you can do so in Comments where you can also ask questions about today’s video that
our team of historians will endeavor to answer. Thank you so much for watching and as they
say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome.