Warfare in the Early Caliphate
Over the past two decades, the West has paid an incredible amount of attention to Islamist violence, from grand theories of civilizational decline to a surfeit of more contemporary sociological and political studies. After a lull following the drawdown of U.S. and Western forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring and the rise of new groups – notably the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – have led to renewed interest in various subjects related to Islamist violence.
And yet, for all the analysis, the origins of Islamic warfare remain remarkably under-examined. Major Western histories of political Islam do cover such events as the Battle of Tours, the Crusades, and even the Sunni-Shi’a schism and the Battle of Karbala (680 CE). But they often gloss over much of the earlier period. In fact, reliable accounts in English of the early years of Islam’s rapid growth – the three decades during which the faith spread from a single town, Medina, to the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, Egypt, Libya, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Central Asia – are few.
Dhruva Jaishankar is a fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Washington DC.