Mohammed did not choose a successor before he died. Instead, the Muslim community chose his successors, or caliphs, who served as the religious and political leaders of the Islamic community. Four caliphs ruled during the next thirty years: Abu Bakr (632-34), Umar (634-44), Uthman (644-56), and Ali (656-61). Mu’awiya, who ruled after Ali’s death, was the founder of the Umayyad dynasty, reigning from 661-750. The Abbasid dynasty took control in 750, and the Islamic empire continued to fragment. The area was being conquered by the controlling dynasties, which created leading positions for local rulers. These kings, sultans, and caliphs displaced the single-ruling caliphs.
Within a century of the Prophet Mohammed’s death, Islam had spread as far as Jerusalem, France, North Africa, Spain, and Sind (present-day Pakistan). Later, Islam extended to Iraq, Persia (present-day Iran), Afghanistan, India, Turkey, and into the Mongolian steplands of Asia. Today, Islam claims many adherents in central Asia and Indonesia and substantial minorities in the West, specifically in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.
Divisions of Islam
Like every religion, Islam is divided into sects. After the death of Mohammed in A.D. 632, the community, or umma, disagreed about who should succeed Mohammed, leading to the creation of two sects: the Sunni Muslims and the Shi’ite Muslims. The Sunni umma, who follow the sunna, or actions, of Mohammed closely, believed the most suitable caliph would be Abu Bakr. They base their lives upon his sayings and actions, with reference to the Hadith. Sunnis are considered mainstream traditionalists. The Shi’ite community, who were the “Shi’at Ali” (party of ‘Ali), believed that the best-qualified caliph was Mohammed’s son-in-law, Ali, based on some words Mohammed spoke about Ali in the Koran. Shi’ites exalt their leaders, or Imams, as though divinely inspired to interpret truths of the Koran. Their main teacher was Imam Husayn, who was assassinated in 680.