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Rise of Islam and the Major World Religions to 1500 CE, The

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Atlas of the World’s Religions, Second Edition What is This? Depicts the historical development and present state of the world's major religions

    Rise of Islam and the Major World Religions to 1500 CE, The

    THE LAST major religious tradition to arise was that of Islam. After the migration (Hejira) of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE , he became the overall leader of the whole city of Medina, and Islam began a dramatic expansion. By 661 CE , during the golden age of Muhammad and the four early caliphs, Islam had spread through much of North Africa and the Middle East, the Qur'an had been finalized, the Arabic language had begun to permeate what became the Arab world, and Islam was poised to expand still further.

    Rise of Islam and the Major World Religions to 1500 CE, The

    1. The Rise of Islam

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    By 1258 Islam had penetrated into Spain in the west and India in the east and was at least equal in strength to Europe, India and China.

    The Great Religious Traditions

    During the medieval period Europe was dominated by Christianity, India – although multi-religious – was becoming more Hindu, and China had a combined Confucian, Daoist and Mahayana Buddhist culture. Islam prevailed in the Middle East, and the four regions became roughly equal, roughly parallel and roughly separate.

    Rise of Islam and the Major World Religions to 1500 CE, The

    2. World Religions, c. 1500 CE

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    Christianity spread within Europe, absorbing the various northern tribes, including the marauding Vikings; and with the rise of Russia its Orthodox branch began to venture east into the steppes. Islam ventured into Europe, reaching Spain in the west and, eventually, Turkey in the east. In early Spain creative contacts developed between the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities. Elsewhere, on the other hand, the Crusades exacerbated the sense of hostility between Christians and Muslims.

    Islam became established in India through the medium of the Mughal empire, which had also received Syrian Christians, some Jews, some Parsis (who settled in Bombay after fleeing from the Muslim invasion of Persia) and later the Sikhs. All these groups co-existed with India's majority Hindus, Jains and Buddhists (who virtually died out in later medieval India). In China the neo-Confucian revival, centred on Chu Hsi ( 1130 – 1200 ), incorporated elements of Daoism and Buddhism, and in Southeast Asia Buddhism grew in strength. European Christendom became the most beleaguered of the four major religions, beset by Islam to the south and Tartar and Mongol hordes to the east. Within Europe, except for early Spain, the Jews were spasmodically persecuted.

    Parallel Religions

    Although the four major religions were radically different some linking patterns can be discerned. Transcendence, and the means by which it was achieved, mattered; whether it was seen in terms of reaching God through Christ, Allah through the Qur'an, a Hindu personal deity through the mediation of a Brahmin, or the enlightened state of Nirvana through the Buddha or the Dharma (the Buddha's transcendent teaching). The monastic or mystical communities of each tradition encouraged the development of inward spirituality. In all four religions, the future life, whether in heaven or beyond the round of rebirths, mattered as much as, if not more, than this life. In the Christian world, theological and philosophical syntheses of faith emerged in the work of Aquinas and Bonaventura in around the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These syntheses were echoed by Maimonides in the Jewish world, al-Ghazali in the Muslim world, Chu Hsi in China, and Ramanuja in India.

    Each tradition saw the development of different branches of the faith; Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, Sunni and Shi'ite Islam, Theravada, Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism, and Hindu communities centred specifically upon Siva, Visnu and the Goddess. All of the traditions were distinguished by elaborate rituals, festivals and sacraments, great ethical systems, and beautiful buildings, sculpture and literature.

    In the wider world the American Indians, the Inca and Aztec cultures, the peoples of southern Africa, the Aborigines of Australia, the Maoris of New Zealand, and the peoples of Oceania were cut off mainly by sea from the classical traditions, as were the peoples of Siberia and the Arctic, through the exploits of Mongol invaders.

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