Return to site
· Cultural Cycles and Climate Change

12. Cultural Cycles and Climate Change- Arabic Culture- Cycle 2

The previous cycle was one where there was no unified culture, but rather groups of disparate tribes with the land where they lived under Greek or Roman control. The second cycle was to change all that.

AirPeriod—A New Impulse 392–630 CE

Arab population expanded in several areas, including: the Arabian Peninsula; and the Middle East; i.e. Iran, Iraq, Syria and Africa. .The inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula, who spoke various dialects of Arabic, followed different ways of life; nomads who raised camels or sheep, known as Beduins, cultivators of food, craftsmen and tradesmen.

The exposure to the ruling Western cultures and the positive responses received regarding their craftsmanship and trade gave the Arabic culture an increased degree of confidence. While they were a fragmented society there was a growing positive attitude about their role in the world.

Mecca had become a thriving mercantile city,but as with all commercial ventures where success is measured by wealth alone, there was discomfort. It all changed when Muhammad, an Arab businessman, had an experience that heralded a major change in the world. During the holy month of Ramadan in 610, Muhammad embarked on his yearly act of devotion and retired to a cave on the summit of Mount Hira, where he prayed and fasted. One evening he awoke to find himself overwhelmed by a powerful presence. He heard the words of a new Arabic revelation sounding in himself. For the first two years he kept quiet about his revelation, but after the encouragement and support of his family, he began to speak about the guidance he had been given.

The message he offered was simple and not anew doctrine. He believed that he was merely reminding people about the faith in the One God, Allah. He did say that it was wrong to build a private fortune, but good to share wealth and create a society where the weak and vulnerable were treated with respect. He warned that if the tribal leaders did not change their motives and actions, their culture would collapse. Not a message that many of the wealthy wanted to hear, but he did attract many people as a following. This was the basis of a new scripture, called the Quran, was revealed to him verse by verse during a 21year period, often in response to a problem or a question from the growing following. The new spiritual tradition was called Islam, meaning ‘surrender, obedience and peace’. Islam is derived from the word Salam which is used as a term of greeting or a gift when a Muslim meets another person.

WaterPeriod—Expansion 630–928 CE

Muhammad’s death in 632 stimulated a major disagreement within the culture about the appropriate ruler. On one side the belief was that it should be a member of Muhammad’s family, a Sunni who was someone fully conversant with the Islamic teaching or whether the ruler should be the relative of another family, a Shi’a. This conflict about rulership continues today. The successors were able to quell the resistance and increase the degree of unity of the tribes. As a result, they were able to send forces into Iraq, Syria and Egypt, where they achieved significant victories, including their conquest of the entire Persian empire. They were also victorious in Palestine, conquering Jerusalem in 638, and by 641 they controlled all of Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Within a century after the death of Muhammad the Islamic Empire extended from the Pyrenees to the Himalayas.

By 700 the Arab empire had expanded from the Atlantic Ocean to the plains of Northern India and frontiers of China. Spain was invaded in 712 and part was ruled until 1492. Further Arab expansion in Europe stopped at Poitiers in 732.

The Abbasid (Sunni) Caliphate expanded the empire 750– 936, which was also a period of great intellectual and artistic achievements, among them were the translation of Western works into Arabic, including: Euclid’s Elements; The Dialogues of Plato; Ptolemy’s Astronomical System; in depth studies of chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics (algebra discovered); design and building of mosques.

FirePeriod—Summit Reached, Decline Begins 829–1107 CE

The Quran text released in 935. Islam spread to many other cultures including Mughal, Persian, and Turkish Ottoman. Sufism,the mystical aspect of Islam, became more popular and accepted. The peak Fire period occurred during the rule of theAbbasid Caliphate which resulted in a great renaissance in Baghdad and other cities of the empire. It was at this time that a coherent body of Islamic law known as Shariah was formed.

What has been fascinating to see is how quickly the Islamic culture moved from a predominantly agrarian culture to one that provided some of the finest examples of art, science and architecture of the period, the scope and quality of which are still admired today. Typically,though not entirely, Islamic art has focused on the depiction of patterns,because it was and is still today, feared by many Muslims that the depiction ofthe human form is a sin against God, forbidden in the Quran.

Classical Greek philosophy produced a widerange of original works from Ancient Greece (e.g. Aristotle) to those Greco-Roman scholars in the classical Roman Empire (e.g. Ptolemy). Though these workswere originally written in Greek, for centuries the language of scholarship inthe Mediterranean region, many were translated into Syriac, Arabic, and Persianduring the Middle Ages. As the Arab caliphates absorbed Greek/Roman knowledge,the medieval Islamic world gradually became the dominant intellectual centre inthe Mediterranean region.

Astronomy was a major discipline withinIslamic science. Effort was devoted both towards understanding the nature ofthe cosmos and to practical purposes. Astrology was studied to enable theprediction of events affecting human life and selecting suitable times foractions such as going to war or founding a city.

EarthPeriod—Consolidation, Decline, Conclusion 1107-1246

The Earth period of this cycle was filled withwar and conflicts, much of it brought about by a renewed and more vigorousWestern culture. The Byzantine Emperor sought help from Western Christendom inthe 11th century to curb Muslim invasions. This began a period of Crusades, asdescribed in the Western European history of this period, which lasted for morethan 200 years resulting in a dramatic decrease in Islamic influence.


This was a marvellous example of how a commonreligion, language and law unites even disparate groups of people, enabling themanifestation of the finest of human qualities. Individual self-confidence ofthe Arab people grew during this period such that spiritual, intellectual,artistic, and economic achievements, not imagined in the previous period, wererealised.

What was especially interesting to acknowledgewas how Islamic religion united Arab and other language-based cultures such asthe Turkish, Mughal, North African and Middle Eastern countries who operated asone and thus became a true global power. It is a good lesson for the Westernculture at this time who are becoming more and more focused on individualnationalistic concerns and thus losing the power of a united culture.

The positive outward cycle was coming to aclose. The inevitable rigidity of the Earth period set in weakening the overallstrength of the culture. What happened in the next downward cycle was consistentwith observations about the other cultural cycles.

The next blog will include a summary of thelessons learned from the historical analysis and an outline of the way forward.