“My choice of Muhammad [ﷺ] to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels.
Of humble origins Muhammad [ﷺ] founded and promulgated one of the great world religions, and became an immensely effective political leader. Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive.
The majority of persons in this book had the advantage of being born and raised in centres of civilization, highly cultured or politically pivotal nations. Muhammad [ﷺ], however, was born in the year 570, in the city of Mecca, in southern Arabia, at the time a backward area of the world, far from the centres of trade, art and learning…
The Bedouin tribesman of Arabia had a reputation as fierce warriors. But their number was small; and plagued by disunity and internecine warfare, they had been no match for the larger armies of the kingdoms in the settled agricultural areas to the north. However, unified by Muhammad [ﷺ] for the first time in history, and inspired by their fervent belief in the one true God, these small Arab armies now embarked upon one of the most astonishing series of conquests in human history. To the northeast of Arabia lay the Neo-Persian Empire of the Sassanids; to the northwest lay the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman Empire, centred in Constantinople*. Numerically the Arabs were no match for their opponents. On the field of battle, though, the inspired Arabs rapidly conquered all of Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine. By 642, Egypt had been wrested from the Byzantine Empire, while the Persian armies had been crushed at the key battles of Qadisiyya in 637, and Nehavend in 642.
But even these enormous conquests – which were made under the leadership of Muhammad’s [ﷺ] close friends and immediate successors, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab – did not mark the end of the Arab advance. By 711, the Arab armies had swept completely across North Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. There they turned north and, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, overwhelmed the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.
For a while, it must have seemed that the Moslems would overwhelm all of Christian Europe. However, in 732, at the famous Battle of Tours, a Moslem army, which had advanced in to the centre of France, was at last defeated by the Franks. Nevertheless, in a scant century of fighting, these Bedouin tribesmen, inspired by the word of the Prophet [ﷺ], had carved out an empire stretching from the borders of India to the Atlantic Ocean – the largest empire the world had yet seen.”[Michael H. Hart, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, 1991, pp. 33-35]
*Constantinople was later conquered by Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih in 1453. In a hadith, the Prophet ﷺ predicted:
“Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will he be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!”
Narrated from Bishr al-Khath’ami or al-Ghanawi by:
Ahmad, al-Musnad 14:331 #18859 [sahih chain according to Hamza al-Zayn] al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak 4:421-422 [sahih according to him and al-Dhahabi concurred] al-Tabarani, al-Mu`jam al-Kabir 2:38 #1216 [sahih chain according to al-Haythami 6:218-219] al-Bukhari, al-Tarikh al-Kabir 2:81 and al-Saghir 1:306 Ibn `Abd al-Barr, al-Isti`ab 8:170 [hasan chain according to him] al-Suyuti, al-Jami` al-Saghir [sahih according to him]