Sixth-Century Arabian Drought Contributed To Islam’s Rapid Rise

Sixth-Century Arabian Drought Contributed To Islam’s Rapid Rise

Islam expanded considerably more quickly than other great religions after its founding. According to a recent study, severe droughts in the country where it was born likely had a significant role in the instability that allowed new ideas to bloom. A hundred years after Jesus’ death, Christianity remained an unknown faith with a small number of adherents. Islam, on the other hand, took less than 50 years from its founding to become the world’s most widely practiced religion.

According to a report published in Science, this was the result of a destabilized ecosystem in southern Arabia, which was exacerbated by climate circumstances. It is beyond the reach of the authors to say whether those conditions were caused by a confluence of weather events or supernatural intervention. In the third to sixth century, Himyar ruled over what is now Yemen. Dams and terraced slopes characterized a well-ahead-of-its-time irrigation infrastructure, transforming the semi-desert into a fertile food-growing region and extending an impact across Arabia.

Despite the presence of the Red Sea, a succession of crises undermined the Himyarite Kingdom to the point that it was invaded by Aksum (today’s Ethiopia) in the sixth century CE. The unrest spread throughout Arabia. Historians have been baffled by the Himyarite problems, but Professor Dominik Fleitmann of the University of Basel discovered a plausible solution at Hoti Cave on the other side of the Arabian Peninsula. Each drop that reaches the cave’s ceiling carries additional dissolved calcite to contribute to the cave floor when it drops, hence stalagmite development rates fluctuate with rainfall above the cave.

The ratio of oxygen isotopes in the rock reveals more about the environment at the time the material was set down, with a larger 16O:18O ratio in wetter eras. Fleitmann got the opportunity to investigate the H12 stalagmite in the cave. In a statement, Fleitmann remarked, “Even with the naked eye, you can see from the stalagmite that there must have been an extremely dry period spanning several decades.” A closer look revealed the most severe drought in the stalagmite’s 2,650-year history.

The fraction of decaying uranium from the dry era places it in the early sixth century, although dating the stalagmite’s deposits is too inaccurate to pinpoint the specific dates of this acute drought. Fleitmann explored historical records and neighboring climatic proxies for additional clues of the Arabian climate at the time, unable to conclude if the drought corresponded with Himyar’s fall, let alone whether it caused it, based only on the stalagmite.

Fleitmann used data on the water level of the Dead Sea throughout time and dust deposition in Neor Lake, Iran, as well as other sources. Everything points to the Middle East being ravaged by drought around the year 520 CE. The spring of Siloam in Jerusalem was said to have dried up in the year 520 CE. Meanwhile, showers in Turkey intensified as storm tracks in the eastern Mediterranean drifted north.

“Water is without a doubt the most valuable resource.” “It is obvious that a drop in rainfall, particularly multiple years of severe drought, may collapse a fragile semi-desert monarchy,” Fleitmann said. Fleitmann argues that the Himyarite Kingdom’s irrigation system was particularly prone to reverse downward spirals. Because the system’s constant maintenance would have required tens of thousands of personnel, any disruption in their health or availability may have resulted in significant food production losses.

At the same period, trade was hampered by a conflict between the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires. The Kingdom collapsed in 525 CE, and Arabia suffered for a century as a result of conflict and poverty. “As a result of poverty and conflict, the populace was suffering greatly.” This meant Islam found fertile ground: people were looking for fresh hope, something that might bring people back together as a community, according to Fleitmann. “This was supplied by the new religion.”