Medieval Islam

Islam is a religion that is complete. It has a rich culture and without any interference or flexibility in its basis it has turned out to be a complex, and dynamic steady in the world. Yet, the least is known about it in the West. It rose dramatically to popularity in the seventh century A. D. and from that time to present it has covered a large part of the world culture with its influence and managed to incorporate many languages and cultures within its midst. Islamic history between the 7th and the 15 centuries is termed as Medieval. (Wilson 1968)

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Islam started to expand at a time when there were many strong empires already present in the world. From the Byzantine Empire ( the Eastern Roman and Orthodox Christian Empire) in the West and in the East, the Sassanid Kingdom (Persian and Zoroastrian). These two powerful empires were in constant warfare in all terms from political to economic. Thus, the Arabs were influenced both by the Christians and Zoroastrianism. The Byzantine and the Sassanian, shaped to a great extent the culture of Islam and its development. (Cantor, 1974) Before Islam the Arabs established trade centers and secured business routes along the coastal plains of Arabia.

Mecca became the most important center of finance and the most powerful settlement. The Kaaba brought many Arabs to the city and created a climate favorable to spiritual and commercial interests. By the seventh century, the Quraysh and other Arab tribes were leaving the old nomadic life behind and were becoming aware of the social problems; the Prophet of Islam brought a new religious message to the Arabs. Before Islam the Arabs established trade centers and secured business routes along the coastal plains of Arabia. Mecca became the most important center of finance and the most powerful settlement.

The Kaaba brought many Arabs to the city and created a climate favorable to spiritual and commercial interests. By the seventh century, the Quraysh and other Arab tribes were leaving the old nomadic life behind and were becoming aware of the social problems, the Prophet of Islam brought a new religious message to the Arabs. As Islam spread the world saw the Middle Eastern states and Asia being united for the time in complete unity not a territory of areas. After the Prophets and the Caiphate rule it was the Seljuk Turks in the second half of the eleventh century that formed the greatest places in Western Asia.

Hodgson, 1974) After the Arabs and Persians it was the third dominant race of Islam. It prolonged the Caliphate, broke Asia Minor away from Christendom and allowed the Ottoman invasion of Europe and put an end to the political domination of the Arabs in the Near East, it spread the language and culture of Persia over a wide area from Anatolia to Northern India, and by posing a grave threat to the Christian Powers, it impelled the Latin West to undertake the remarkable counter-offensive of the Crusades. The Christians and Islam were complete enemies. Islam had to be presented as the enemy[i].

Consequently, Muslim belief had to be disproved or mocked, and Muslim social behavior distorted and denigrated. If the stories could be enlivened by an appeal to listeners’ sexual prurience, then so much the better. All Western perceptions were affected by this context; even when a favorable view of specific Muslims appears it is presented in a manner, which shows how the individual concerned overcame the disadvantages of such an alien upbringing, sometimes with the help of innate qualities derived from ancestors in whom Latin blood could be discerned[ii].

The cultural unity of the Mediterranean, the creation of the Roman empire, disappeared as a Semitic and non-Christian society established itself in the region. The trade routes connecting the eastern and western branches of Christendom were weakened as the Muslims seized control of the sea. The Carolingians turned away from the Mediterranean, and Western Europe developed in a continental semi-isolation.

The Crusades, which occurred around 1100 A. D. layed a crucial role in challenging the church’s authority. The pope identifying the spread of Islam as evil requested all of Europe embark on a “Crusade” to defeat the infidels. As the battles were fought, great treasures were found in the form of books and knowledge. These books were crude translations of old Greek texts, containing information, which would eventually produce the waning of Church authority in the future. By 1000 BC the Islamic Empire was decaying.

After three centuries, however, the Islamic ruling classes too had become bloated and parasitic, willing to ravage the countryside in order to provide for their own luxury consumption. The land around the old Islamic capital, Baghdad, became barren and desolate, and the Islamic world was torn apart by revolts and civil wars. Islamic culture, now centred in cities like Cairo, Cordoba in Spain, Bukhara in central Asia and Timbuktu in west Africa, remained in advance of any in Europe for some time, but had lost its old dynamism.

The revived Chinese civilisation was still very dynamic in 1000AD. Under the Sung Empire, there was a growth of trade and industry such as humanity had never known and was not to know again until after the European Renaissance of the 16th century. A Turkic people established a rival empire, the Chin, over northern China, leaving the Sung dynasty with the south alone until, in the 13th century, both were conquered by a former herding people, the Mongols.

The Mongols entered the Islamic Empire in Iran and Mesopotamia and ravaged northern India and eastern Europe. The name of their leader, Genghis Khan, has become a byword for wanton savagery. [iii] The Medieval era consisted of different ‘cultures’ which were, a product of historical development, not its cause. We can trace the spread across Eurasia and Africa (and, separately, across the Americas) of the great innovations which increased the ability of human beings to make a livelihood and transformed the societies they lived in.

So wheat first domesticated in the Middle East made its way to the Atlantic coast of Europe, north Africa and the Pacific coast of China; rice from southern China reached west India; iron spread out from Asia minor to the whole of Eurasia over a 1,500 year period; steelmaking from west Africa diffused down into the centre and east of the continent over a similar time span; the camel domesticated in Asia about 1000 BC opened the way to commerce through the Sahara and to the transformation of Arabia in Mohammed’s time; horse harnesses from central Asia and gunpowder, compasses and paper from China were essential prerequisites for the development of late medieval era.

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