views updated May 23 2018


The expansion of Islam historically embraces two phenomena. The first is the expansion of Islamic states—that is, states whose ruling elite consisted of Muslims and which consciously aimed to extend Islamic rule to new regions. The second phenomenon is the spread of Islam as a religion or faith—that is, the actual process (often called "conversion") by which individuals and groups came to identify themselves as Muslims, both inwardly and publicly.

These two processes are not unrelated but are far from identical and must be carefully distinguished from one another. On the one hand, Islam historically first came to some (but not all) regions of the world through the expansion into those regions of states whose leading cadres were Muslims and which espoused a self-consciously Islamic view of the world. State expansion was justified by the doctrine of jihad, "striving" or "exerting oneself" (i.e., in God's service). Jihad embraced a variety of practices, including the moral struggle against sin (even within oneself), peaceful proselytization of others, the use of violence by believers in defense of their way of life when attacked, or aggressive warfare against nonbelievers (nonmonotheists) to force them to recognize God's oneness and to submit to Islam. All these interpretations of the sense of jihad are rooted in Qur˒anic verses (for example, 25:48–52 on proselytization; 22:39–41 on self-defense; 9:29 on aggressive warfare). It was the last understanding of the meaning of jihad that was most germane to the process of Islamic state-expansion.

The most important instance of this process was the spread of the first Islamic state in the early years of the Islamic era (seventh to ninth centuries c.e.), but it also is visible in numerous later historical episodes, such as the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into the Christian Balkans in the fourteenth through eighteenth centuries, the Ghaznavid and Ghurid conquest of Sind and adjacent parts of South Asia in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the conquests of the Delhi sultans in India during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the expansion of jihad states in the western Sudan in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and so on. In almost all such cases, the objective of these Muslim rulers or states was not immediate conversion of the local population to Islam, but rather the more mundane concerns of seizing booty or securing the tax revenues of the conquered lands, or gaining control of strategically important areas. In many instances, however, the conquerors were responding not only to these mundane incentives, but also (or, sometimes, exclusively) to a general desire to establish in the newly conquered territories an Islamic public order—that is, a social order in accord with Islamic law (shari˓a). This they wished to do both in order to extend the glory of the faith they espoused, and in order to ensure that Muslims living in such areas could meet their religious obligations to God under Islamic law: open confession of their faith, regular public prayer, fasting during Ramadan, giving of alms, and performance of the pilgrimage to Mecca if that was within their means. In most cases, however, the establishment of an Islamic order in new areas was not accompanied by forced conversions to Islam or by official pressure on non-Muslims to convert; the image of Muslim warriors coming to an area and offering the conquered the stark choice between "Islam or the sword" is mostly a myth propounded by Western anti-Islamic polemicists.

The establishment of an Islamic public order in a hitherto non-Muslim area, however, particularly if sustained over the span of several generations, generally created the conditions under which many non-Muslims gradually embraced Islam. This is why it is said that the processes of state-expansion and of individual and group conversion, while distinct, are intimately related. Still, even under the aegis of an Islamic state, the converts' actual decisions to join the Islamic community openly (to "convert") seem to have been shaped primarily by individual factors that were also operative outside the realm of control of any Islamic state. These included social, economic, and other practical incentives, as well as the intrinsic appeal of Islam as a faith-system in its own right.

These historical processes can only be sketched here in the broadest outlines; their reconstruction by the historian is moreover bound to be somewhat uneven because of the nature of the sources, which are for many parts of this story seriously deficient or even nonexistent. In general, however, one can say that the process of state expansion is much better documented than is the process of Islam's adoption by new "converts," whether within or outside of Islamic states, for whose individual decisions, and the factors contributing to them, there is often no trace whatsoever.

The remainder of this article will examine first the general factors that have contributed historically to people's decision to embrace Islam, followed by a brief overview of the spread of Islam in various regions of the world, during which the relative importance of state-expansion and other factors will be noted.

Causes and Agents of Islamization

As with most complex social processes, the Islamization of a population that hitherto did not identify itself as Muslim normally involved a multitude of causes or factors. These factors impinged in differing degrees on various individuals in the population depending on their cultural, social, economic, and political situations and their personal temperament. It is therefore impossible to generalize from one person's conversion narrative what the relative importance of various factors in conversion was for his society as a whole, just as it is impossible to work back from the aggregate factors operative in a certain historical situation to deduce just which ones would have been most influential on a particular individual who chose to embrace Islam; the selection of factors that were most important to a given person can only be known if that person leaves some written record of his own reasons for embracing the new faith—something that happens only in a tiny minority of cases.

First and foremost, we must acknowledge that Islam, as a faith system, has significant intrinsic appeal to the intellect. The relative simplicity and transparency of its basic doctrines (monotheism, prophecy, last judgment, etc.) makes them easy to grasp and to defend in philosophical or theological discourse against religious systems with more convoluted doctrines (e.g., the Christian doctrine of the Trinity). The fact that Muslims developed over the first two centuries of their existence a strong tool for legitimizing some of these doctrines in the form of an elaborate origins narrative helped bolster the intellectual cogency of Islam's doctrines. Islam's emphasis on justice (frequently stressed in the Qur˒an) and on the brotherhood of all believers—the latter made especially manifest in the daily communal prayers and in major ritual observances such as collective fasting during Ramadan—were also capable of exercising a strong intellectual attraction on many individuals (aside from their obvious possible social attractiveness).

As noted above, the establishment of states with Muslim rulers and an Islamic public order usually created the conditions under which many people came to embrace Islam. Many converted in response to the working of economic or social or other factors that the existence of an Islamic public order made possible. Some, however, embraced Islam for explicitly political reasons. Besides those who wished to enter government service (or who were already in it, and believed that openly confessing Islam would enhance their career chances), many others were doubtless attracted to the faith that was now "official," publicly proclaimed, and so increasingly prominent, and associated with success and victory. On the other hand, the use of political pressure or force by Muslim authorities to coerce people to embrace Islam, while not unknown in Islamic history, was very seldom practiced, even when politically dominant Muslims absorbed populations of nonmonotheists or "pagans."

At various times individuals or communities may have responded to economic incentives to embrace Islam. The structure of taxation under an Islamic regime—according to which non-Muslims paid a special tax, the jizya or poll-tax, to the Muslim authorities—sometimes seems to have encouraged individuals to embrace Islam. Generally, however, the tax inequities seem to have been minimal (Muslims, after all, were liable according to the shari˓a to some taxes not levied on non-Muslims, such as the zakat or alms-tax) and not sufficient to generate waves of conversions to Islam. After all, the non-Muslim communities of the Near East embraced Islam only very slowly—a process taking hundreds of years. Far more important, probably, was the force of general economic (and social) dislocation caused by the policies of various Muslim states, which caused great flux in all communities under their rule—Muslim as well as non-Muslim—resulting in a shattering of the communal solidarity of some non-Muslim communities, in the aftermath of which the uprooted individuals may well have embraced Islam in order to find a secure place for themselves in some community. The agrarian distress of the middle Umayyad period in Egypt, for example, which led to widespread abandonment of lands by their peasant cultivators, many of whom fled to the (predominantly Muslim) towns, weakened or destroyed rural non-Muslim communities and doubtless led many such refugees to embrace Islam more or less out of desperation, as their only economic foothold became one dominated by Muslims among whom they now lived and worked.

Many social factors also contributed to the acceptance of Islam by individuals or groups. Non-Muslims from highly stratified societies who lived in contact with Muslims could not fail to observe the relative egalitarianism of Islam (reflected, for example, in the fact that all believers, from the wealthy merchant to the poorest laborer, prayed side-by-side in the mosque); this may have had an impact in societies with caste-like social restrictions, such as were found in Hindu society in South Asia or among Iran's Zoroastrians. More generally, the highly visible collective rituals of Islam, particularly communal prayer and fasting during Ramadan, created an obvious sense of solidarity among believers that could exercise a strong attraction on those non-Muslims who yearned for the security of a strong social matrix. These rituals also provided apparent popular affirmation for the cogency of Islam's doctrines. For some men, particularly of the wealthier classes, the relative ease of divorce and the toleration of polygamy may have been attractive features of Islam's social system. Perhaps most important of all, however, was the simple desire among some non-Muslims to attain fuller social integration (including intermarriage) with Muslims among whom they lived and worked, and with whom they had other business or social ties. (Since apostasy from Islam was punishable by death, according to Islamic law, Muslims rarely converted to other religions, even when they lived outside an Islamic state.) The fact that Muslim men could, according to Islamic law, marry non-Muslim women meant that a non-Muslim who converted to Islam did not even necessarily cut himself off from the possibility of marrying a woman of his former religious community.

Cultural factors at times also played an important role in the spread of Islam among new populations. During the first several centuries of the Islamic era (roughly eighth through twelfth centuries c.e.), the urban-based Arabic-Islamic civilization that developed in the Middle East was by far the most sophisticated cultural tradition of western Eurasia. As such it exercised a powerful attraction on many people, who both embraced Islam and adopted the Arabic language. (The adoption of Arabic and Arabo-Islamic cultural patterns by numerous people in Andalusia who remained Christian, on the other hand, reveals that the processes of Arabization and Islamization were not always congruent.)

Another cultural development of importance to the spread of Islam was the rise of Islamic literary traditions in languages other than Arabic; this helped to make the faith more accessible and familiar to speakers of those languages, once Islam had begun to spread beyond the Arabic-speaking lands of its beginnings. Usually, the language in which an Islamic discourse was newly developing adopted the Arabic script as an outward marker of its Islamic character, to distinguish such writings from earlier, non-Islamic writings in the same base language. The first appearance of Islamic writings in Persian but using a modified form of the Arabic script, for example, which began in the tenth century c.e., contributed significantly to the consolidation of Islam in the Iranian cultural zone over the next several centuries, against its local rivals, especially Zoroastrianism, which continued to write in a form of Persian using the older Pahlavi script. Similar processes accompanied the rise of Islamic literary traditions in various dialects of Turkish, among Indic languages for which Urdu became the vehicle of Islamic literary culture and identity, and in Indonesian-Malay; the rise of each of these contributed significantly to the consolidation of Islam in areas where these languages were spoken.

It is important to note that the spread of Islam often has followed a pattern of initial superficial Islamization followed after a generation or more by a "reform" movement. The initial Islamization may be little more than nominal and marked by much syncretism and the survival of older, non-Islamic beliefs and practices; the "reform" along the lines of a more rigorous variant of Islam is sometimes carried out by indigenous Muslims (not infrequently led by returning pilgrims), sometimes by revivalist preachers from outside the area. Examples of this can be seen in historical contexts as disparate as the Maghrib in the eleventh through thirteenth centuries (Almoravid and Almohad movements), Anatolia during the twelfth through fifteenth centuries, the puritanical Wahhabi movement in the Arabian peninsula beginning in the sixteenth century, the revitalization of Islamic practice in nineteenth-century Indonesia at the hands of returning pilgrims, and the transformation of the Black Muslim movement in the United States into a form of orthodox Sunni Islam during the second half of the twentieth century. Islamic reformers naturally decry the laxity and heterodox character of the superficially Islamized communities they strive to reform, but it must be recognized that these communities' loose initial affiliations with Islam, however unorthodox in practice and belief, nonetheless represent a decisive turn on the part of these people toward identification with the broader Islamic community. This early identification with Islam may be an easier step for individuals to take precisely because it is still tentative, tolerant of some cherished pre-Islamic practices of the local community, or associated with political or other programs that are not those of Islam in general (for example, black separatism in the case of the Black Muslim movement); yet it results in a fundamental reorientation of the individual's identity toward Islam, and so offers the base on which later reformers can subsequently build.

The agents of Islamization are of course almost infinite in variety, as in principle people of any kind can, under appropriate conditions, proselytize others or serve as positive models that attract nonbelievers to the faith. Historically, however, three groups of people in Islamic society have been especially important to the spread of the faith: merchants, popular preachers, and mendicant Sufis (mystics). Muslim merchants, who often established themselves as self-contained colonies in non-Muslim areas, historically were the first to bring awareness of Islam to many new areas. Because of the nature of their work, they usually established close personal ties with the non-Muslims among whom they lived, which gave them many opportunities to engage in patient proselytization among their associates. Moreover, their prosperity, general reputation for honest dealing and upright behavior, and powerful sense of collective identity as Muslims made them strong positive examples of the Islamic way of life that quietly drew many converts.

In some situations, popular preachers also were important to the spread of Islam. Motivated solely by personal piety, these individuals were especially effective in situations where Islam was already known but not yet embraced by many people. The impact of mendicant Sufis was not dissimilar to that of preachers, although the form of Islam they popularized was in some cases less rigorous than that espoused by the preachers; as such it appealed to people who were unwilling to give up all aspects of their former belief-system, and initiated that kind of superficial Islamization that, as has been seen, was often an important first step down the road to full immersion in the faith.

The Expansion of Islam in Various World Regions

Islam began in western Arabia with the preaching of the prophet Muhammad (ca. 570–632 c.e.). Under the caliphs, or successors to Muhammad as temporal leaders of the Muslims, the community he had founded in Medina and Mecca expanded quickly to control all of the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, Syria-Palestine, Iran, and Egypt; most of these areas were seized through military action from the two great powers of the day, the Byzantine and Sassanian Persian empires. While the early Islamic conquests remain difficult to explain in full as a historical phenomenon, they are probably best seen as an example of state-formation followed by rapid state expansion. Once firmly established, the Islamic state, led by the Umayyad caliphs (660–750 c.e.), established major garrison towns in newly conquered areas (Kufa and Basra in Iraq; Hims in Syria; Fustat in Egypt; Qayrawan in Tunisia; Qom, Marv, and others in Iran). These became important urban centers where Islamic literary culture developed, particularly under the Abbasid caliphs (750–1258 c.e.). From these garrison towns the caliphs launched further campaigns of conquest that brought ever-wider areas under their sway. North Africa was conquered in a series of campaigns sent from Egypt in the middle and later decades of the seventh century, and Muslim armies crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in 711 c.e. and quickly seized most of the Iberian peninsula, followed in subsequent decades by raids deep into Gaul and occupation of significant areas of what is now southern France. All these areas have ever since remained part of the Islamic world, with the exception of southern France and Iberia, from which Muslims were expelled in 1492 by a resurgent Spanish monarchy, and some islands in the Mediterranean, notably Sicily, where Muslims established themselves during the ninth and tenth centuries c.e. In the east, Muslim forces defeated the last armies of the Sassanian Great Kings in western Iran already in the middle of the sixth century, and within several more decades Muslim forces had seized areas far to the east, particularly Khurasan, although some areas of Iran (Sistan, Gilan) resisted Muslim encroachment stubbornly for many more years. From Khurasan, the caliphs dispatched armies into other parts of eastern Iran, Afghanistan, and areas beyond the Oxus River in Central Asia.

The caliphs not only organized and maintained the conquering armies that carried out this remarkable expansion of the first Islamic state, they also benefited from the conquests in the form of a share of booty and captives and subsequently in the form of regular taxes imposed on the conquered areas. But it is important to note that for at least two centuries, Muslims constituted a minority (at first, indeed, a very small minority) of the population of the vast area controlled by the early Islamic empire between Spain and Afghanistan; it is estimated that the population of the caliphal domains only became 50 percent Muslim around the middle or end of the ninth century. The conversion of the population of the Middle East, then, even in lands like Syria, Egypt, and Iran, was clearly something that happened very gradually.

It was also during the early Islamic centuries that certain peoples living adjacent to the caliphal empire, but outside its borders, embraced Islam. The Bulgars, who lived along the Volga, had embraced Islam by the ninth century, probably under the influence of Muslim merchants coming from the south. The pastoral nomadic Turkish peoples of the Central Asian steppes were also increasingly converted to Islam during the ninth and tenth centuries; some may have embraced Islam on the advice of itinerant preachers or Muslim merchants to avoid being preyed upon by slave-raiders coming from the fringes of the caliphal empire in Khurasan. Their conversion was to prove of great importance, for in the eleventh century the Turks began their epic migration westward through northern Iran and into Azerbaijan, the Caucasus region, and Anatolia; this folk migration, which their political leaders the Seljuks partly orchestrated and partly followed, brought both the Turkish language and Islam for the first time to many parts of Anatolia. Under the aegis of various rival Turkish-Islamic states, much of the formerly Christian population of what we today call Turkey gradually embraced Islam between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries c.e.—in this case, a process in which both merchants and syncretistic Sufi fraternities played a significant part. Eventually, this Turkish-Islamic matrix gave rise to the Ottoman state, which in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries conquered vast new territories for Islam in the Balkans and created the conditions under which the faith spread there, particularly in Albania and Bosnia.

The first Muslim presence in South Asia was established already in the early eighth century c.e. in the Indus river valley (Sind and Punjab) by the conquest of key towns in the region, but although this community survived for many centuries little is known about it. The real beginning of the extensive spread of Islam in South Asia came in the late tenth and the eleventh centuries c.e., when the Ghaznavid dynasty began to launch raids from its main base in Afghanistan into the Indus valley and beyond, in order to secure the rich plunder the area offered. Eventually, some of these raids resulted in the establishment of permanent Ghaznavid outposts in Sind, especially as the Ghaznavids's control of their original base in Afghanistan was challenged and then taken away by others; their Indian possessions thus became a refuge for the Ghaznavids. The Ghaznavids were succeeded by the Ghurids, who in the later twelfth century held not only Sind and Punjab but also came to control most of northern India as far east as western Bengal. With the fall of the Ghurids in Afghanistan in the thirteenth century under pressure of the Khwarizmshahs and Mongols, some Ghurid commanders in India established the first Delhi Sultanate, which engaged in constant campaigning to spread its control against local Hindu and rival Muslim princes. By the fourteenth century, the Delhi sultans had brought an intermittent patchwork of areas under their control, extending all the way to south India and to Orissa in the southeast, and continued battling other Muslim and Hindu principalities. The degree of Islamization resulting from this political control varied, however, from region to region in South Asia; in general, Islamization was (and remains) much more extensive in the regions of Sind, Punjab, Bengal, and, by the fourteenth century, Kashmir in the north and Deccan in the south, than it was in other areas of India, including the Ganges plain.

Although military expansion was important to the spread of Islam in India, however, it was far from the only factor. Perhaps equally important was the establishment, no later than the twelfth century, of numerous trading colonies of Muslim merchants, usually of Arab or Persian origin, particularly along the west coast of India. These merchant colonies brought to the rulers (usually Hindu) in whose territories they established themselves not only important economic benefits, but also an exposure to some aspects of Islamic high culture, and a reputation for honesty and fair dealing. The Muslim merchant colonies were therefore important catalysts for the conversion to Islam of many people in India, even before a Muslim prince or the Delhi sultans brought their area under the domination of an officially Muslim state. Also important to the spread of Islam in South Asia were members of various orders of Sufis (mystics), such as the Chishtiyya. Some Sufi saints were closely associated with a Muslim ruler, while others avoided such ties and operated independently; whatever the case, their egalitarianism, emphasis on the spiritual life, and eagerness to welcome new adepts made them powerful magnets for the faith.

In China, Muslims have always been a minority. Already by the ninth century c.e. there was a large colony of Muslim (presumably Arab and Persian) merchants in Canton; it was largely massacred or expelled by the Chinese in 878, though some Muslims remained. The largest communities of Muslims in China were established in Xinjiang in the west during the thirteenth and following centuries, during the period of Mongol rule of China (the Yuan dynasty), when the Mongols, who cared little about religion, allowed Muslim merchants free access to the country. The Mongol Golden Horde conquered parts of central Asia and southern Russia, destroying the Muslim Bulghar kingdom, but by 1290 the khans of the Horde had themselves embraced Islam.

The first Muslims in Southeast Asia seem to have been Arab merchants who established a colony in Palembang in the trading state of Shrivijaya in eastern Sumatra in the seventh century c.e. In the subsequent centuries, colonies of Arab, Persian, and Indian Muslim merchants established themselves along the coasts of the Malay peninsula and Sumatra, some fleeing the Chinese destruction of the large Muslim trading colony at Canton in 878. As in coastal India and East Africa, Muslim merchants established a foothold in most of the trading ports of Malaysia and Indonesia. The important colony of Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra is mentioned already in the thirteenth century by Marco Polo as having a Muslim ruler. The trading entrepot of Malacca, which controlled the crucial shipping lane through the narrow strait separating Malaya and Sumatra, seems to have had a Muslim ruler by the early fifteenth century. In both cases, the wealth and commercially based assertiveness of these trading entrepots resulted in the spread of Islam to neighboring areas. The sultans of Malacca extended their control over nearby areas of the Malay peninsula, bringing to Islam local populations that had not already been attracted to Islam by the glittering prosperity of Malacca's rulers; but after Malacca's conquest by the Portuguese in 1511, its commerce declined sharply, particularly because Muslim merchants preferred to take their commerce to Muslim Aceh. The sultans of Aceh eventually expanded their influence and control southward in Sumatra and in adjacent areas at the expense of other local chieftains, particularly in the seventeenth century c.e.; they continued to ply their traditional occupations of commerce and piracy, and the sultanate ended only in the late nineteenth century during the war against Dutch colonial occupation. The spread of Islam to other parts of Southeast Asia—in particular Java, Borneo, and the Moluccas—was carried out through a combination of peaceful commerce, proselytization, and warfare launched against their neighbors by local Muslim princes. In Java, Islam became influential at the court of Majapahit around the mid-fifteenth century, and subsequently spread widely through the island. Similar patterns can be traced in Borneo, Sulawesi, the Moluccas, and Luzon during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Rivalry between Muslim preachers and Christian missionaries (Portuguese and later Dutch) in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries sharpened the effort of Muslim proselytizers, who presented their cause increasingly as one of jihad against Christian aggression. In the nineteenth century, Muslim pilgrims returning to Indonesia from extended stays in Arabia were instrumental in fueling a revivalist or purification movement that did much to deepen the local commitment to Islam.

Islam came to North Africa, as we have seen, as part of the rapid expansion of the first caliphal state in the seventh century c.e. South of the Sahara, Islam spread more slowly, arriving by several different routes: up the Nile, across the Sahara to the Niger region of West Africa, and by sea to the East African coast. From Egypt, caliphal control, and with it Islam, spread already in the seventh and eighth centuries southward up the Nile into Nubia and from there into the northern parts of the modern state of Sudan and to the fringes of Ethiopia. Farther west, Muslim merchants from North Africa were by 1000 c.e. crossing the Sahara in caravans via key oasis towns such as Sijilmasa, Tadmekka, and Awdaghast, and had established merchant colonies near the great bend of the Niger River, particularly at the trading center of Timbuktu. The revivalist Almoravid movement established a Muslim state in Mauretania in the eleventh century, and began attacking the Soninke kingdom of Ghana before expanding rapidly northward again. By the thirteenth century, these initial seeds of Islamization had grown into several powerful Muslim kingdoms in the western Sudan: Mali and Gao in the Niger valley, and Kanam, in the vicinity of Lake Chad. These kingdoms and other smaller ones periodically waged jihad against neighboring non-Muslims, and also encouraged commerce, which drew local tribal peoples into closer contact with Muslim merchants and their cosmopolitan vision of the world.

The spread of Islam in East Africa, along the Indian Ocean littoral, resembled in some ways Islam's penetration of Southeast Asia. The first agents of Islamization were Muslim merchants from Arabia, Iran, and India, who came with the monsoon and founded or established colonies in the major coastal trading ports from Somalia southward, particularly in Zanzibar, where sectarian (Khariji) Muslims from Oman established ties that endured in political form until the mid-twentieth century. Other Muslim colonies remained subject to local rulers, but retained close communal and family ties to their coreligionists in Arabia or India. From the coastal trading ports, Islam gradually penetrated some distance into the hinterlands from which came the goods exchanged at the ports of trade.

Muslim communities became prominent in Western Europe and North America only during the middle and latter decades of the twentieth century. In Western Europe, Muslim communities became established in some cases as an unforeseen by-product of a European country's possession of Asian or African colonies or protectorates with large Muslim populations. Whether in search of work, education, or (after the colony's independence) sanctuary from oppression, migrants from these colonial or ex-colonial possessions sometimes found a way to move to the metropolitan country, whose language and sometimes culture they had often learned. Salient examples are the large communities of Muslims of North or West African origin in France, those of South Asian origin in Great Britain, and those of Southeast Asian origin in the Netherlands. Other Muslim migrants to Europe came to countries with no colonial connections to the Islamic world, mainly for economic reasons, such as the many Turkish guest workers in Germany, or for political reasons (Iranians after the overthrow of the shah in 1979, Bosnians during the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s). Whatever the cause, many of these Muslim migrants to Europe settled there permanently, so that the large and growing Muslim communities of Western Europe are now in their third and fourth generations.

In North America, large numbers of immigrants from majority-Muslim lands in Asia and Africa came to pursue economic opportunities or education, or to escape political oppression or economic deprivation (such as the large influx of Iranians of middle- or upper-class backgrounds who came after 1979). The Islamic community in the United States, however, also includes a sizable number of indigenous African-Americans. Beginning in the 1930s, some African-Americans joined Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, originally a black separatist movement. The Nation of Islam espoused many ideas that were not part of traditional Islam and most of them identified only weakly with mainstream Muslim communities around the world. During the 1950s and 1960s, however, this movement underwent an internal transformation (led by such figures as Malcolm X) that led increasing numbers of its members to adopt mainstream Islamic values and to abandon the movement's black separatist origins. The American Muslim Movement that emerged from the Nation of Islam after Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975 is thoroughly orthodox in its doctrines.

See alsoConversion ; Da˓wa ; Jihad ; Tasawwuf .


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Fred M. Donner


views updated May 11 2018


In a little over two hundred years, a few tiny, beleaguered English settlements evolved into a mighty nation that would soon extend its

boundaries across the entire North American continent. Although "expansion" accurately describes the geographical transformation that would continue throughout the nineteenth century, the term connotes passivity and inexorability. The growth was so rapid, deliberate, energetic, and violent that it could just as well be described as an "explosion" that overwhelmed those colonists' five rivals—the French, Spanish, Dutch, British, and Native Americans.

The English colonists had several competitive advantages over their opponents, the most important of which was their rapidly expanding population. The Spanish lusted after silver and gold, which they failed to use as the foundation of a system of public credit and private power. Generous agricultural subsidies failed to attract many Spanish colonists because there was a shortage of labor in Spain. Although the French engaged in some farming, they primarily sought such natural resources as beaver skins in North America and sugar in the West Indies. For instance, French leaders thought they had acted wisely when they did not pursue England's tentative queries about trading all of Canada for the sugar island Guadeloupe after the French and Indian War ended in 1763. This diplomatic blunder reminds historians how fortune (as well as particular decisions by particular leaders) plays a major role in history. If France had controlled Canada at the time of the American Revolution, the Revolutionaries might have won more easily and then successfully conquered Canada.

The Dutch simply did not have a large enough population at home to compete against the swarms of English who rushed over to the New World in four discrete waves during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The English colonists quickly turned to agriculture and trade (even as some continued to look for gold), activities that transformed the landscape

and provided sustenance for a populace that grew from about one million settlers in 1740 to four million in 1790. They imported the dynamic, flexible common law system of rural capitalism: a free market in land, labor, and goods. Lightly taxed and well fed, the colonists were soon much taller than their European counterparts. Fully aware of their growing power and needs, the colonists chafed at the constraints the British put upon them after the French and Indian War: although the British had given them rights and access to all lands east of the Mississippi, they banned any further migration. Caught between these four competing European empires, the Native American tribes had neither the technology nor the cultural traditions to overcome numerous plagues, internal disputes, and the vast number of determined colonists.

the ideology of colonization

From the beginning, the English colonists had continental aspirations, for which they had several ideological justifications beyond immediate self-interest and providing for one's family. Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood's expedition in 1716 to the Blue Ridge Mountains was self-consciously nationalistic; he foresaw "a new English nation" sweeping across the frontier. Both Europeans and Americans preferred to wrap up their imperial ambitions in legal rhetoric. The king of England granted his colonists royal charters extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a grant covering not only Native Americans but also the French. The king authorized these grants on the legal theory that the English had "discovered" these lands even though Native Americans already lived there. Like his European rivals, the king based this circular, self-serving argument on the theory that non-Christian leaders had no capacity to establish their own title and that the Europeans were the first Christians to discover and thus legitimately own the lands.

When Chief Justice John Marshall faced the question of title in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, he did not rely on euphemisms or noble principles. He invoked the doctrine of "conquest," bluntly stating that the Native Americans had lost a "contest for empire" because of their inferior military capacities. Sovereignty is a phenomenon described by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes: "In the exercise of sovereign right, the sovereign is the sole arbiter of his own justice. The penalty of wrong is war and subjugation." The philosopher John Locke provided a jurisprudential justification for English title: the Native Americans had no natural law property rights to the land because they had not cultivated the land (even though many tribes actually had extensive agriculture).

For most of the colonists, religious beliefs were not a pretext for a land grab. Many of the English left their native land to pursue their religious beliefs in the new country. The Puritans' desire to practice their religion (and suppress other religious views) enabled them to endure the harsh environment of New England. John Winthrop Jr.'s famous claim that the Puritans were establishing "a Citee on a Hill" combined religious and political aspirations. William Penn created Pennsylvania to protect the freedom of conscience. Many of the English sought to save the souls of the heathen natives, while others sought to eliminate them or at least move them out of the way. Thus, the early colonists believed in "Manifest Destiny" long before John O'Sullivan invented that phrase in 1845 to describe how Americans "overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions." English racism also was a tool of empire. Unlike the French, who often went "native" in every sense of the word, the English remained more culturally and sexually isolated from their local rivals. They quickly embraced race slavery throughout the colonies, a system that achieved a high level of productivity at relatively little cost because the black slaves could not easily escape. The "rights of Englishmen" to representation, the common law, and the jury did not apply to anyone else.

the struggle for dominion: wars, skirmishes, and revolution

All the contestants paid a high price in terms of lives lost during these protracted struggles for control of the continent, which did not cease until the end of the nineteenth century. The list of atrocities, ranging from the slaughter of entire villages to isolated murders, is agonizingly long. During King Philip's War in 1675, Wampanoag Indians killed more than six hundred whites. The colonists retaliated by killing over four thousand Wampanoags—40 percent of the tribe. A century later, John Floyd described to Thomas Jefferson the hard life on the Kentucky frontier:

We are all obliged to live in forts in this country, and notwithstanding all the caution that we use, forty-seven of the inhabitants have been killed and taken by the savages, besides a number wounded, since the first of January last. … Whole families are destroyed without regard to age or sex. Infants are torn from their mothers' arms, and their brains dashed out against trees.

Thus, for almost three hundred years, the colonists engaged in a "total war" that included civilians as well as combatants.

While the colonists continued their long war with the Native Americans, they faced a more dangerous threat from the French, who were wealthy, far better organized, and generally more effective in developing alliances with the Indians. The French sought to contain British expansion by building a ring of forts along the western frontier. When George Washington, a leading speculator in western lands, tried to negotiate with the French, they told him of "their absolute Design to take possession of the Ohio, and by G—they would do it." On his return trip in 1754, Washington helped trigger the French and Indian War by ambushing a French scouting party at Great Meadows (in what is now southwestern Pennsylvania).

England's eventual victory over France revealed that one of the perils of empire is ingratitude. The British had spent a great deal of money to defeat the French and maintained the Americans should help reduce the resulting national debt. The Americans, no longer threatened by the French and their Native American allies, saw no reason to pay any additional taxes without their own consent. After all, they had spilled their own blood to help Britain expand its empire. But the controversy extended beyond taxation without representation. In 1763 the British tried containment once again by proclaiming that colonists could not move into western lands already occupied by the Indian tribes, who now were also British subjects engaging in a lucrative fur trade, and by building forts to enforce the mandate. Even worse, in 1774, the Quebec Act extended Canadian jurisdiction to the Ohio River while also protecting loathed French Catholicism. In 1775 the Continental Congress responded to these constraints (as well as the escalation in the use of force by both sides) by invading Canada, knowing that such an act made reconciliation all but impossible. One year later, Thomas Jefferson turned those actions into the enduring words of the Declaration of Independence. The king's efforts to combat colonial expansion were listed among the Declaration's complaints justifying armed revolution: "[The king] has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners, refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, & raising the conditions of new appropriations of land."

the theory and practice of american expansionism

Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson were geopoliticians of the first rank. In 1748 Franklin described Captain Christopher Middleton's arduous attempt to find the fabled North-West Passage to the South-Sea, a quest to facilitate the shipping of furs and other valuables to growing markets in Asia. Franklin would later fund another failed effort to find the nonexistent river route. As soon as Europeans began conquering the New World, they also started constructing a global market tying together Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Franklin understood sooner than most of his fellow colonists the need for coordination between the different colonies; his newspaper published the first political cartoon, a drawing of a snake cut into many pieces that were marked as various colonies, resting above the admonition "Join or Die." Less noticed is the snake's hissing recommendation to "Unite and Conquer." That snake would later consolidate, warning "Don't tread on me." Franklin envisioned dramatically increased colonial coordination when he drafted the Albany Plan of Union, which described itself as a "Plan of a proposed Union of the Several Colonies … For their Mutual Defence and Security, and for extending the British Settlements in North America." Even more important, Franklin developed the revolutionary premise that England's constitution must apply equally throughout the empire. Jefferson would transform this notion into an "Empire of Liberty" offering unlimited opportunities and equal rights to any white males who would venture into the wilderness. In 1801, soon after Gabriel's slave revolt reminded Southerners of their vulnerability, Jefferson described his hemispheric vision to James Monroe in terms intimating political, cultural, and even racial uniformity:

However our present interests may restrain us within our own limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms, and by similar laws; nor can we contemplate with satisfaction either blot or mixture on that surface.

Jefferson, the son of a surveyor, understood the necessity of exploration as precondition to establishing title and sovereignty. He organized the Lewis and Clark expedition to satisfy both his insatiable scientific curiosity and to begin the process of establishing sovereignty as far as the Pacific Ocean.

These examples of American leadership should not obscure the role that untold thousands of unknown, individual American settlers made throughout this era to change the face of the continent. Whatever the French, the British, the Native Americans, or American leaders said or did, the pioneers relentlessly risked their lives and fortunes to explore and develop new lands. Just before the Revolution, Lord Dunmore, governor of the Virginia colony, described this force to the Earl of Dartmouth, colonial minister and secretary of state for the colonies:

The Americans acquire no attachment to Place: But wandering about seems engrafted in their Nature. … In this colony Proclamations have been issued from time to time that restrain them. But … they do not conceive that Government has any right to forbid their taking possession of that Vast tract of Country, either uninhabited, or which serves only as a Shelter for a few scattered Tribes of Indians. Nor can they easily be brought to entertain any belief of the permanent obligation of Treaties made with those People, whom they consider but little removed from brute Creation.

Embracing rather than fighting the inevitable, Dunmore issued a proclamation granting title to new settlers who moved beyond the Allegheny Mountains and provided surveyors to facilitate development.

Heavily influenced by the economist Thomas Malthus and the French physiocrats, Madison and Jefferson believed the United States' population surge was a short-term boon that would eventually undermine their ideal of agrarian republicanism. Explosive population growth would enable the Americans to spread the "empire of liberty" across the continent. As Madison argued in The Federalist Number Ten, this increase protected the Republic because a large republic is less prone to factionalization and tyranny than a small one. Thus the fortuitous Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon, which doubled the size of the new nation, not only augmented American power but also protected republicanism by providing an essential outlet for continued growth. Dissenting Federalists accurately observed that the purchase also provided new opportunities for the slave economy. The two Virginians understood that there was only a finite amount of arable land. Eventually, a surplus populace would move to the cities, which would turn that overflow into a dependent, corrupt faction, vulnerable to demagoguery. However, the steadily swelling populations of numerous urban centers indicated that many Americans did not perceive their cosmopolitanism to be incompatible with republicanism. In the meantime, Jefferson required that any growth be of the right kind of people. He refused to let the new citizens of Louisiana immediately elect their own representatives because they were not of Anglo-American stock, preferring to wait until enough Anglo-Americans moved into the new territories before permitting elections. Jefferson also believed (or more accurately, blindly and self-servingly hoped) that expansion would resolve the slavery issue. Somehow slavery would disappear or at least become diluted as it spread westward. He never explained how his admired yeoman farmers could easily coexist with the new plantations, which would increase the demand for slaves.

While Jefferson preferred to enlarge the country and take residual title from Native Americans through negotiations and purchases, Madison preferred conquest. Twice Americans invaded Florida, only to retreat for diplomatic reasons. American leaders started the War of 1812 with the hopes of conquering Canada. Like most American military operations during that war, the invasion failed miserably. But a diplomatic return to the status quo obscured profound victories for expansionists. Andrew Jackson had effectively crushed any residual Native American resistance east of the Mississippi before he defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Madison partially rejected the traditional Republican Party antipathy to the powerful federal government that Alexander Hamilton had argued was necessary to support and protect this union; Madison supported a second national bank but vetoed a bill to build federal roads to link the newly settled lands with the Atlantic Coast.

Aided by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, President James Monroe paved the way for continued American expansion, both formal and informal. In 1819 the Monroe administration purchased Florida from Spain. In 1821 Russia attempted to forbid all foreign shipping as far south as Vancouver Island. Bluffing brilliantly, Adams convinced the British not to invade Alaska. When the British minister asked if the Americans were planning to invade Canada again, Adams replied, "Keep what is yours, but leave the rest of the continent to us." Relying on suggestions from the British, Adams next persuaded Monroe to declare in the Monroe Doctrine that no European nation could expand anywhere in either hemisphere, a dramatic step toward Jefferson's vision of hemispheric hegemony. Having secured the northern flank, Americans turned to the Southwest. Once again, individual settlers made foreign policy on the ground by moving in large numbers into Texas and pouring into the lands west of the Mississippi, thereby guaranteeing more conflicts with Native American tribes and the Spanish. The historian Henry Adams best described the Americans' assessment of their next opponent:

In the end, more than half the territory of the United States was the spoil of the Spanish empire, rarely acquired with perfect propriety. To sum the story up in a single word, Spain had immense influence over the United States; but is the influence of a whale over its captors, —the charm of a huge, helpless, and profitable victim.

But the coming victories carried with them another peril facing successful empires: virulent internal dissension.

slavery threatens the consensus

Territorial expansion aggravated the sectional fault line of slavery, an issue swept off the table since the Constitutional Convention. When Southerners originally agreed to join the Union, they mistakenly thought their region would grow more quickly than the North. But thanks to immigration and the attractions of a free market culture, the North's population quickly outpaced the South's. The constitutional compromise giving Southerners three-fifths of a vote for every slave enabled Virginians to be president for twenty-four years; but events quickly revealed that the South could not control the House of Representatives. Consequently, the South desperately defended equality in the Senate, demanding that half of any new states, with their invaluable two senatorial seats, be admitted as slave states. In 1820 Representative James Tallmadge Jr. of New York broke the taboo by proposing that Missouri be admitted into the Union only if it banned the importation of new slaves and emancipated all slaves born there at the age of twenty-five. Tallmadge explained that slavery's "baleful consequences would surely conquer the West." Tallmadge's victory in the House demonstrated the loss of southern influence. Senator Henry Clay averted immediate conflict by pushing through the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state.

The historian Vernon Parrington offers one interpretation of the unstable situation of the United States. The nation was torn, he argues, between three rival forms of imperialism, each with its emerging utopian vision. The North was starting to create the world's second "industrial capital order." The South relied on cotton to create a "dream of expanding fields of white bolls and black slaves, reaching into Mexico and embracing the West Indies." The West preferred an individualistic society for whites only, seeking "county-seat towns where land holdings mounted in value with every new wave" (p. xiii) of immigrants. No longer seriously concerned about external opposition, the growing country would turn on itself in a gruesome civil war to resolve this sectional competition.

See alsoAdams, John Quincy; Albany Plan of Union; American Indians: American Indian Resistance to White Expansion; British Empire and the Atlantic World; Concept of Empire; Constitutional Convention; Declaration of Independence; French; French and Indian War, Consequences of; Frontier; Frontiersmen; Geography; Hamilton, Alexander; Jefferson, Thomas; Lewis and Clark Expedition; Louisiana Purchase; Madison, James; Missouri Compromise; Monroe, James; Monroe Doctrine; Spanish Empire; War of 1812 .


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Adams, Henry. History of the United States of America during the Administrations of James Madison. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1986.

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Meinig, D. W. The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History. Vol. 1: Atlantic America, 1492–1800. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986.

Parrington, Vernon Louis. Main Currents in American Thought: An Interpretation of American Literature from the Beginnings to 1920. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.

Stephanson, Anders. Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995.

Turner, Frederick Jackson. The Frontier in American History. New York: Dover, 1996.

Van Alstyne, Richard W. The Rising American Empire. New York: Norton, 1974.

Williams, William Appleman. The Contours of American History. New York: Norton, 1988.

Wilson, James Gordon. The Imperial Republic: A Structural History of American Constitutionalism from the Colonial Era to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century. Aldershot, U.K., and Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2002.

James G. Wilson


views updated May 09 2018

ex·pan·sion / ikˈspanshən/ • n. the action of becoming larger or more extensive: the rapid expansion of suburban Washington. ∎  extension of a state's territory by encroaching on that of other nations, pursued as a political strategy: German expansion in the 1930s. ∎  a thing formed by the enlargement, broadening, or development of something: the book is an expansion of a lecture given last year. ∎  the increase in the volume of fuel on combustion in the cylinder of an engine, or the piston stroke in which this occurs.


views updated May 09 2018

expansion Change in the size of an object with change in temperature. Most substances expand on heating, although there are exceptions (ice expands on cooling). The expansivity (coefficient of expansion) of a substance is its increase in length, area or volume per unit temperature rise. For a gas, the coefficient of expansion is the ratio of the rates of change of volume to temperature (at constant pressure), or of volume to pressure (at constant temperature).


views updated May 23 2018

expansion of an algebra. An algebra formed by adding some new operations, and possibly new carriers, to another algebra.