Religion has always been an important factor in the history of the Middle East. Jerusalem is holy to the three largest monotheistic religions in the world: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Dominance over the region has shifted from one religious affiliation to another over the years, bringing battles both political and religious that continue to this day.
Judaism was the first of the three monotheistic religions to dominate the area. Judaism was founded around the thirteenth century B.C.E. in the area of Palestine or Canaan, currently known as Israel. According to the Torah, the holy book of Judaism, this area was promised to the Hebrews by God. The region was inhabited by Jews for many centuries until the year 70 C.E. when the Romans under General Vespasian and his son Titus captured Jerusalem and drove out the Jews. This began the diaspora, or dispersal, of the Jewish people which lasted until the creation of the state of Israel May 14, 1948.
Christianity began around the year 30 C.E. in the region of Palestine. It was founded by Jesus of Nazareth and spread by Paul of Tarsus. Many of the holiest places of Christianity are found in present-day Israel. Christianity spread out towards Western Europe where the majority of Christians lived by the Middle Ages.
In 1095 C.E. Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade at Clermont. The goals of the Crusades were to liberate the "oppressed" Christians in the Middle East and to restore possession of Jerusalem and other holy places. For the most part the Crusades were unsuccessful with any claimed territory being lost again to the Muslims. Eventually, any territories still possessed by the European Christians were abandoned because support and popularity of the Crusades diminished.
While Europe was in a period of declining growth during the seventh century, the Middle East region was flourishing under the influence of Islam. The Prophet Mohammed, born in 570 C.E., united the inhabitants of the area into a common belief that "there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His prophet." Although Mohammed encouraged the conversion of existing Christians and Jews in the area, he also promoted tolerance. Gradually, more and more people converted to the new religion and by the ninth century, Arabic had become the universal language in the Middle East.
With the exception of the Crusades, the Middle East has been dominated by Muslims for almost fourteen centuries. The disintegration of the Ottoman Turk empire following World War I led to conflict over Jewish claims to the region, specifically to the land of Palestine. The creation of the State of Israel brought renewed religious tensions to the region, and the fight over who rightfully owns the land continues.