The Central IslamicLands
Sources to understand the History of central Islamic land
1. Semi-historical works, such as biographies, records of the sayings and doings of the Prophet (hadith) and commentaries on the Quran (tafsir) are also available.
2. The material from which these works were produced was a large collection of eyewitness reports (akhbar) transmitted over a period of time either orally or on paper. The authenticity of each report was tested by a critical method which traced the chain of transmission and established the reliability of the narrator.
3. Christian chronicles, written in Syriac are fewer but they throw interesting light on the history of early Islam. Besides chronicles, we have legal texts, geographies, travelogues and literary works, such as stories and poems.
The Rise of Islam in Arabia:
1. The Prophet Muhammadwas an Arab by language and culture and a merchant by profession. The Arabs were divided into tribes each led by a chief whowas chosen partly on the basis of his family connections but more forhis personal courage, wisdom and generosity.
2. Each tribehad its own god or goddess, who was worshipped as an idol ina shrine. Many Arab tribes were nomadic (Bedouins), movingfrom dry to green areas (oases) of the desert in search of food and fodder for their camels.
3. Muhammad’s own tribe, Quraysh, lived in Meccaand controlled the main shrine there, a cube-like structure called Kaba,in which idols were placed.
4. Even tribes outside Mecca considered theKaba holy and installed their own idols at this shrine, making annualpilgrimages to the shrine. Mecca was located on the crossroads
5. Around 612, Muhammad declared himself to be the messenger of God who had been commanded to preach that Allah aloneshould be worshipped. The worship involved simple rituals, such asdaily prayers, and moral principles, such as distributing alms and abstaining from theft.
1. The Hijri era was established during the caliphate of Umar, with the first year falling in 622 CE. A date in the Hijri calendar is followed by the letters AH.
2. The Hijri year is a lunar year of 354 days, 12 months (Muharram to DhulHijja) of 29 or 30 days. Each day begins at sunset and each month with thesighting of the crescent moon.
3. The Hijri year is about 11 days shorter than the solar year. Therefore, none of the Islamic religious festivals, including theRamazan fast, Id and hajj, corresponds in any way to seasons.
4. There is no easy way to match the dates in the Hijri calendar with the dates in the Gregoriancalendar (established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 CE).
5. One can calculate therough equivalents between the Islamic (H) and Gregorian Christian (C) yearswith the following formulae:(H × 32 / 33) + 622 = C OR (C – 622) × 33 / 32 = H.
The Caliphate and their contributions
1. After Muhammad’s death in 632, no one could legitimately claim to bethe next prophet of Islam. As a result, his political authority wastransferred to the (close friends of Ph. Muhammad)elder Muslimswith no established principle of succession.
2. This created opportunity for innovations .The biggest innovation was the creation of the institution of caliphate, in which the leader of the community became the deputy or khalifaof the Prophet.
3. The first fourcaliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali justified their powers on the basis of their closeassociation with the Prophet and continued his work under the generalguidelines he had provided.
4. The twin objectives of the caliphate were a) to retain control over the tribes constituting the community.
5. To raise resources for the state.
1. Following Muhammad’s death, many tribes broke away from theIslamic state. The first caliph, Abu Bakr, suppressed the revolts by a series of campaigns.
1. The second caliph,Umar, shaped the Muslim’s policy of expansion of power.
2. He realised that rich booty could be obtained from expeditionary raids, the caliph andhis military commanders mustered their tribal strength to conquered lands belonging to the Byzantine Empire in the west and the SasanianEmpire in the east.
3. Inthree successful campaigns Umar brought Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt under the control of Arabs. Military strategy, religiousfervour and the weakness of the opposition contributed to the successof the Arabs.
1. The third caliph,Uthman, to extend the control to Central Asia. Within a decade of thedeath of Muhammad, the Arab-Islamic state controlled the vastterritory between the Egypt and Afghanistan.
2. The third caliph, Uthman also a Quraysh by birth. He packed his administration with his own men to secure greatercontrol. This further intensified the Meccan character of the state andthe conflict with the other tribesmen.
3. Opposition in Iraq and Egypt, combined with opposition in Medina, led to the assassination ofUthman.
1. With Uthman’s death, Ali became the fourth caliph.The rifts among the Muslims deepened after Ali (656-61) fought two wars against those who represented the Meccan aristocracy.
2. Ali’ssupporters and enemies later came to form the two main sects of Islam: Shias and Sunnis.
3. Ali established himself at Kufa and defeated an army led by Muhammad’s wifein the Battle of the Camel.
4. He wasnot able to suppress the faction led by Muawiya, a kinsman of Uthman and the governor of Syria.
5. Soon after, Ali was assassinated by a Kharji in a mosque at Kufa. After his death, his followers paidallegiance to his son, Hussain, and his descendants.
6. Muawiya madehimself the next caliph in 661, founding the Umayyad dynasty whichlasted till 750.
Administrative changes introduced by the Caliphs in the newly conqured territories
1. In all the conquered provinces, the caliphs imposed a newadministrative structure headed by governors and tribal chieftains.
2. The central treasury obtained itsrevenue from taxes paid by Muslims as well as its share of the bootyfrom raids.
3. The caliph’s soldiers, mostly Bedouins, settled in camp cities at the edge of the desert, such as Kufa and Basra, to remainwithin reach of their natural habitat as well as the caliph’s command.
4. The ruling class and soldiers received shares of the booty and monthly payments.
5. The non-Muslim population retained their rights toproperty and religious practices on payment of taxes
The Umayyads and the changes introduced by Umayyads in Politics or Administration
1. The first Umayyad caliph, Muawiya, moved his capital from Medina to Damascus.
2. Headopted the court ceremonies and administrative institutions of the Byzantine Empire.
3. He also introducedhereditary succession (family succession) and persuaded the leading Muslims to accepthis son as his heir.
4. The Umayyad state was now an imperial power, no longer baseddirectly on Islam but on statecraft and the loyalty of Syrian troops.
5. There were Christian advisers in the administration, as well asZoroastrian scribes and bureaucrats. However, Islam continued toprovide legitimacy to their rule. The Umayyads always appealed forunity and suppressed rebellionsin the name of Islam.
Changes introduced by Abdal-Malik
a. Abd al-Malik adopted Arabic as the language of administration.
b. He introduced an Islamiccoinage. The gold dinar andsilver dirham that had beencirculating in the caliphate werecopies of Byzantine and Iraniancoins
c. Abdal-Malik also made a highly visible contribution to the development of anArab-Islamic identity, by building the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
The Abbasid Revolution and changes introduced by Abbasids
1. The Abbasids, descendants of Abbas, the Prophet’s uncle. The Abbasids portrayed the Umayyad regime as evil and promised a restoration of the original Islam of the Prophet.
2. The Abbasid uprising broke out in the distant region of Khurasan which had a mixed Arab-Iranian population which could be mobilised for various reasons
3. The Arab soldiers in Khurasan were mostlyfrom Iraq and resented the dominance of the Syrians.The civilian Arabs of Khurasandisliked the Umayyad regime for having made promises of tax concessions and privileges which were never fulfilled.
4. A well-organised movement, called dawa, brought down the Umayyads and replaced them with another family of Meccan origin, the Abbasids, in 750.
5. Their army was led by an Iranian slave, Abu Muslim, who defeated the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan, in a battle at the river Zab.
Administrative changes introduced by Abbasids
1. Under Abbasid rule, Arab influence declined,while the importance of Iranian culture increased.
2. The Abbasids changed their capital from Damascus to Baghdad.
3. The army and bureaucracy were reorganised on a non-tribal basis to ensuregreater participation by people of Iraq and Khurasan.
4. TheAbbasid rulers strengthened the religious status and functions of the caliphate andpatronised Islamic institutions andscholars.
5. They maintained the magnificent imperial architecture and elaborate court ceremonials of the Umayyads.
Causes for the Break-up of the Caliphate
1. In 810, a civil war broke out between supporters of Aminand Mamun, sons of the caliph Harun al-Rashid, which deepened thefactionalism and created a new power bloc of Turkish slave officers.
2. A number of minor dynasties arose, such as the Tahirids and Samanids in Khurasan and Transoxiana andthe Tulunids in Egypt and Syria. Abbasid power was soon limited tocentral Iraq and western Iran.
3. In 945 theBuyids, a Shiite clan from the Caspian region of Iran capturedBaghdad. Theykept the Abbasid caliph as the symbolic head of their Sunni subjects.
4. The Fatimids, the descendantsof Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter claimed that they are the sole rightful rulers of Islam. From their base in North Africa,they conquered Egypt in 969 and established the Fatimid caliphate.
5. TheTurks were nomadic tribes from the Central Asian steppes who gradually converted to Islam. They were skilledriders and warriors and entered the Abbasid, Samanid and Buyidadministrations as slaves and soldiers, rising to high positions onaccount of their loyalty and military abilities.
The Rise of Sultanates
1. The Ghaznavid sultanatewas established by Alptegin (961) and it was consolidated by Mahmud ofGhazni. Ghaznavids were a militarydynasty with a professional army of Turks and Indians.
2. The Abbasidcaliphs were not rivals but a source of legitimacy for Ghaznavids.Mahmudof Ghazniwasconscious of being the son of a slave and was especially eager to receivethe title of Sultan from the caliph.
3. The caliph was willing to supportthe Sunni Ghaznavid as a counterweight to Shiite power.The Saljuq Turks entered Turan as soldiers in the armies of theSamanids and Qarakhanids. They later established themselves as a powerful group under theleadership of two brothers, Tughril and Chaghri Beg.
4. Takingadvantage of the chaos following the death of Mahmud of Ghazni,the Saljuq Turks conquered Khurasan in 1037 and made Nishapur theirfirst capital. The Saljuqs next turned their attention to westernPersia and Iraq (ruled by the Buyids) and in 1055, restored Baghdadto Sunni rule.
5. The caliph, al-Qaim, conferred on Tughril Beg thetitle of Sultan in a move that marked the separation of religious andpolitical authority. The two Saljuq brothers ruled together inaccordance with the tribal notion of rule by the family as a whole.
Causes for the Crusade Wars
1. Jerusalem was conquered by the Arabs in 638 but it was ever-presentin the Christian imagination as the place of Jesus’ crucifixion andresurrection. Christians wanted to recover Jerusalem and this was an important factor for the Crusade wars.
2. Normans, Hungarians and Slavs (People of Eastern Europe) hadbeen converted to Christianity, and the Muslims alone remained as the main enemy of Christians.
3. There was also a change in the social and economicorganisation of the Western Europe in the eleventh century whichcontributed to the hostility between Christian and the Islamicworlds. Christians established political stability through economic growth based on agriculture and trade. But Muslims tried the same through violence and plunder.
4. The deathof MalikShah in 1092 (the sultan ofBaghdad) was followed by thedisintegration of his empire.This offered the Byzantineemperor, Alexius I, a chanceto regain Jerusalem, Asia Minor andnorthern Syria.
5. For PopeUrban II, this was anopportunity to revive the spiritof Christianity. In 1095, thePope joined the Byzantineemperor in calling for a war inthe name of God to liberate theHoly Land.
What are Crusade Wars?
Between 1095 and1291, EuropeanChristians foughtwars against Muslim of the eastern Mediterranean to recapture Jerusalem. These wars were later designated as Crusades. According to some sources Pope Urban II gifted cross to all the Christian soldiers to fight in the war that is why the war was named so.
I, II and III Crusade wars
1. In the first crusade (1098-99), soldiers from France and Italycaptured Antioch in Syria, and claimed Jerusalem. Their victorywas accompanied by the slaughter of Muslims and Jews in the city, settled by both Christians and Muslims.
2. The Franks quickly established four crusader states inthe region of Syria-Palestine. Collectively, these territories wereknown as Outremer(crusader states).
3. When the Turkscaptured Edessa in 1144, an appeal was made by the Pope for asecond crusade (1145-49). A combined German and French armymade an attempt to capture Damascus but they were defeated andforced to return home.
4. After this, there was a gradual erosion of thestrength of crusader states. Salah al-Din (Saladin) created an Egypto-Syrian empire and gave the call forjihad or holy war against the Christians, and defeated them in 1187.He regained Jerusalem, nearly a century after the first crusade.
5. The loss of the city Jerusalem prompted a third crusade in 1189, but thecrusaders gained little victory in Palestineand got free access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims. The Mamluks,the rulers of Egypt, finally drove the crusading Christians from allof Palestine in 1291. Europe gradually lost military interest in Islamand focused on its internal political and cultural development.
Impacts of Crusade wars
1. The Crusades left a lasting impact on two aspects of Christian-Muslim relations. One was the harsher attitude of the Muslim statetowards its Christian subjects which resulted from the bittermemories of the conflict as well as the needs for security in areas ofmixed populations.
2. The other was the greater influence of Italianmercantile in the tradebetween the East and the West even after the restoration ofMuslim power.
Agricultural Development in Arabia
1. Agriculture was the principal occupation of the settled populations inthe newly conquered territories. Land was owned by big and small peasants and, in some cases,by the state. The estate owners collected taxes on behalf of the state. Land which was conquered by the Muslims was handed over mainly to the members of the caliph’s family.
2. The state had overall control of agricultural lands, deriving the bulkof its income from land revenue once the conquests were over. Thelands conquered by the Arabs that remained in the hands of the ownerswere subject to a tax, whichvaried from half to a fifth of theproduce, according to the conditionsof cultivation.
3. On land cultivated by Muslims, the tax leviedwas one-tenth (ushr) of the produce. On land cultivated by non-Muslims, the tax levied was half of the total produce.
4. When non-Muslims started to convertto Islam to pay lower taxes, thisreduced the income of the state. ToControl this, the caliphs firstdiscouraged conversions and lateradopted a uniform policy of taxation.
5. From the tenth century onwards, thestate authorised its officials to claimtheir salaries from agriculturalrevenues from territories, called iqtas.Agricultural prosperity went handin hand with political stability.
6. Inmany areas, the state supported the construction of dams and canals, and the digging of wells etc. Islamic law gave tax concessions to people who brought waste land under cultivation. Through peasant initiatives and state support,cultivable land expanded and productivity rose, even in the absence ofmajor technological changes.
7. Many new crops such as cotton, oranges,bananas, watermelons, spinach and brinjals (badinjan) were grownand even exported to Europe.
1. Islamic civilisation flourished as the number of cities grew and many new cities such as Kufa and Basra in Iraq, Fustat and Cairo in Egypt were founded, mainly to settle Arabsoldiers who formed the backbone of the local administration. The population of Baghdad had reached around 1 million.
2. The older towns such as Damascus, Isfahan and Samarqand received a new lease of life. Their size andpopulation increased, supported by an expansion in the production offoodgrains and raw materials such as cotton and sugar for urbanmanufactures. A vast urban network developed, linking one town withanother and forming a circuit.
3. At the heart of the city were two building complexes radiating culturaland economic power: the mosque, bigenough to be seen from a distance, and the central marketplace with shops in a row, merchants’ lodgings and the office of themoney-changer.
4. The cities were homes to administrators, scholars and merchants who lived close to thecentre. Ordinary citizens and soldiers had their living quarters in theouter circle, each fitted with its own mosque, church or synagogue, subsidiary market and public bath.
5. At the outskirts were the houses of the urbanpoor, a market for green vegetables and fruits brought from thecountryside, caravan stations and ‘unclean’ shops, such as those dealingin tanning or butchering. Beyond the city walls were inns for people torest when the city gates were shut and cemeteries.
Commerce in Arabia
1. Political unification and urbandemand for foodstuffs and luxuriesenlarged the circuit of exchange.Geography favoured the Muslimempire, which spread between thetrading zones of the Indian Ocean andthe Mediterranean.
2. High-value goodssuitable for long-distance trade, such asspices, textile, porcelain and gunpowder,were shipped from India and China tothe Red Sea ports of Aden and Aydhaband the Gulf ports of Siraf and Basra.From here, thegoods were carried overland in camel caravans to the warehouses of Baghdad, Damascus and Aleppo forlocal consumption or onward transmission.
3. The caravans passingthrough Mecca got bigger whenever the hajj coincided with the sailingseasons in the Indian Ocean.At the Mediterranean end of these trade routes, exports to Europefrom the port of Alexandria were handled by Jewish merchants, someof whom traded directly with India.
4. From the tenth century,the Red Sea route gained greater importance due to the rise of Cairo asa centre of commerce and power and growing demand for easterngoods from the trading cities of Italy.
5. Towards the eastern end, caravans of Iranian merchants set outfrom Baghdad along the Silk Route to China, via the oasis cities of Bukhara and Samarqand, to bring Central Asian andChinese goods, including paper. Islamic coins were used for the payment of these goods.
6. The fiscal system and marketexchange increased the importance of money in the central Islamiclands. Coins of gold, silver and copper were minted andcirculated, often in bags sealed by money-changers, to pay for goodsand services.
7. Gold came from Africa and silver from CentralAsia. Precious metals and coins also came fromEurope, which used these to pay for its trade with the East. The greatest contribution of the Muslimworld to medieval economic life was the development of superiormethods of payment and business organisation. Letters of credit(cheque) and bills of exchange (draft) wereused by merchants and bankers to transfer money from one placeor individual to another.
8. Although it was customary for merchants to set up familybusinesses or employ slaves to run their affairs, formal businessarrangements were also common in which sleepingpartners entrusted capital to travelling merchants and shared profitsand losses in an agreed proportion.
9. Islam did not stop people frommaking money so long as certain prohibitions were respected. Forinstance, interest-bearing transactions were unlawful, althoughpeople circumvented usury in ingenious ways such asborrowing money in one type of coin and paying in another whiledisguising the interest as a commission on currency exchange.
10. Many tales from the Thousand and One Nights give us a picture of medieval Islamic society, featuring characterssuch as sailors, slaves, merchants and money-changers.
Learning in Arabia(Religious)
1. For religious scholars of Islam knowledge is derived from theQuran and the model behaviour of the Prophet was the onlyway to know the will of God and provide guidance in this world.
2. Theulamas,religious scholars of Islamin medieval times devoted themselves to writing interpretation for Quran anddocumenting Muhammad’s authentic hadith. Some went on toprepare a body of laws or sharia to govern therelationship of Muslims with God through rituals and withthe rest of the humanity through social affairs.
3. When life had becomeincreasingly complex with urbanisation which led tothe formation of four schools of law in the eighth and ninthcenturies. These were the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafii and Hanbalischools,each named after a leading jurist.
4. The sharia provided guidance on all possible legal issueswithin Sunni society, though it was more precise on questions ofpersonal status such as marriage, divorce and inheritance than oncommercial matters or penal and constitutional issues.
5. A group of religious-minded people in medieval Islam, known asSufis, sought a deeper and more personal knowledge of God throughasceticism and mysticism. The more society gave importance to material pursuits and pleasures, the more the Sufis sought torenounce the world and rely on God alone.
Learning in Arabia(Secular)
1. An alternative vision of God and theuniverse was developed by Islamicphilosophers and scientists under theinfluence of Greek philosophy andscience. In the schools of Alexandria, Syria and Iraq, Greek philosophy,mathematics and medicine were taught along with other subjects.
2. The study of new subjects promoted critical inquiry and had aprofound influence on Islamic intellectual life. Scholars and Philosophers posed wider questions on Islam and provided freshanswers.
3. IbnSina a doctor by profession and a Philosopherdid not believe in the resurrection of the body on the Day of Judgement.IbnSina’s medicalwritings were widely read. The most influential book was Canon of Medicine, a million-word manuscript that lists 760 drugssold by the pharmacists of his day and includes notes on his ownexperiments conducted in hospitals.
4. In medieval Islamic societies, fine language and a creative imaginationwere among the most appreciated qualities in a person. Adabforms of expressions included poetry and prose which were meant to be memorised and used whenthe occasion arose.
5. Abu Nuwas, who was of Persian origin,broke new ground by composing classical poetry on new themes suchas wine and male love with the intention of celebrating pleasuresforbidden by Islam.
6. By the time the Arabs conquered Iran, Pahlavi, was in decay. A version of Pahlavi, knownas New Persian, with a huge Arabic vocabulary, soon developed. Rudaki wasconsidered the father of New Persian poetry, which included new formssuch as the short lyrical poem (ghazal) and the quatrain (rubai). The rubaiis a four-line stanza in which the first two linesset the stage, the third is finely poised, and the fourth delivers thepoint. The subject matter of the rubaiis unrestricted.
7. Ghazni became the centre of Persian literarylife. Mahmud of Ghazni gathered around him agroup of poets who composed anthologies and epic poetry. Themost outstanding was Firdausi,who took 30 years to complete theShahnama (Book of Kings), an epic of 50,000couplets which has become a masterpiece ofIslamic literature. The Shahnamais acollection of traditions and legends whichpoetically depicts Iran from Creation to the Arab conquest.
8. The catalogue of IbnNadimdescribes a large number of works written in prose for themoral education and amusement of readers. The oldest of these is acollection of animal fables called KalilawaDimnawhich is the Arabictranslation of the Panchtantra. The most widespreadand lasting literary works are the stories of hero-adventurers such asAlexander and Sindbad, or those of unhappy lovers known as Majnun or the Madman.
9. These have developedover the centuries into oral and written traditions. The Thousand andOne Nightsis another collection of stories told by a single narrator,Shahrzad, to her husband night after night. The collection was originallyin Indo-Persian and was translated into Arabic in Baghdad in theeighth century.
10. From the ninth century onwards, the scope of writing bookswas expandedto include biographies, manuals of ethics, history and geography.For rulers and officials, history provideda good record of the glories and achievements of a dynasty as well asexamples of the techniques of administration. Alberuni’s famous Tahqiq ma lil-Hind (History of India) wasthe greatest attempt by an eleventh-century Muslim writer to lookbeyond the world of Islam.
Art and Architecture in central Islamic land
1. Religiousbuildings were the greatest externalsymbols of Islamic world. Mosques, shrinesand tombs from Spain to Central Asiashowed the same basic design – arches,domes, minarets and open courtyards –and expressed the spiritual and practicalneeds of Muslims.
2. In the first Islamiccentury, the mosque acquired a distinctarchitectural form which transcended regionalvariations. The mosque had an opencourtyard where a fountain orpond was placed, leading to a vaultedhall which could accommodate long linesof worshippers and the prayer leader. Two special features were locatedinside the hall: a niche in the wall indicating the direction ofMeccaand a pulpit from wheresermons were delivered during noon prayers on Friday.
3. The same pattern of construction – of buildings built around acentral courtyard appeared not only in mosques andmausoleums but also in caravanserais, hospitals and palaces. TheUmayyads built ‘desert palaces’ in oases modeled on Roman and Sasanian architecture, were lavishly decorated withsculptures, mosaics and paintings of people.
4. The rejection of representing living beings in the religious art ofIslam promoted two art forms: calligraphy (the art of beautifulwriting) and arabesque (geometric and vegetal designs). Small and biginscriptions, usually of religious quotations, were used to decoratearchitecture.
5. Calligraphic art has been best preserved in manuscriptsof the Quran dating from the eighth and ninth centuries. Literary workswere illustrated with miniature paintings. Inaddition, a wide variety of illumination techniques were introduced toenhance the beauty of a book. Plant and floral designs, based on theidea of the garden, were used in buildings and book illustrations.