Atlas of World Religions The Origins of Islam

A chronology of the early days of the Muslim religion.

ca. 570 C.E.

Mohammed bin Abdullah is born into an impoverished family in Mecca. He is a member of the Kureish tribe, which looks after the Kaaba, a sanctuary in Mecca. Even in pre-Muslim times, the Kaaba had already become a place of pilgrimage. Mohammed travels to Mount Hira to reflect and pray.

ca. 610

Mohammed has his first vision, which is later interpreted as an appearance of the Angel Gabriel.


Mohammed’s emigration (hijra) from Mecca to Medina marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar, the first year of the hijra.


Mohammed makes his final pilgrimage to Mecca. He dies in Medina in June without having designated a successor (caliph or imam). Ultimately, the leadership battle divided the Muslim community into Sunnis and Shiites.


Caliph Abu Bakr dispatches armies to conquer Syria and Mesopotamia.

634 to 644

Caliph Omar; more territorial conquests by Muslims, including Egypt and Iran.

644 to 656

Caliph Osman occupies additional countries, including Libya and Cyprus. Before being murdered, he has the Koran compiled in its present form.

656 to 661

As a result of infighting, Caliph Ali – Mohammed’s son-in-law and cousin – relocates the caliphate from Medina to Kufa in Iraq, where he is murdered in 661.

661 to 680

Caliph Muawiyya, the governor of Syria, establishes the Umayyad dynasty. Ali’s son Hussein backs Ali’s descendants’ claim to the caliphate.


In Karbela, Iraq, Ali’s supporters, led by Hussein, stage a revolt against the caliph Yasid, which is put down. Hussein dies in the Battle of Karbela. His supporters then declare all former caliphs apostates and confirm Ali’s descendants as the Muslim community’s true imams (successors). Only they, it is said, can receive the “divine light of leadership” from Ali – leading to the creation of the Shiite movement.

680 to 683

Caliph Yasid

661 to 750

Umayyad dynasty; the empire’s borders are extended to Spain in the west and India in the east.


Construction of the Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar) in Jerusalem.


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