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Religion Library: Islam

Exploration and Conquest

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

Over the centuries, other Islamic empires also ruled over specific geographical areas. While each of these empires made a distinctive contribution to world history as well as to Islamic life and culture, none of them commanded the allegiance of Muslims everywhere. The wealthy Mughal Empire ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to 18th centuries. When the Mughal Empire fell into decline, the British Empire used the opportunity to take control of India. The British exiled the The Mezquita in Cordobalast Mughal ruler in 1857.

In Iran, the Shi'i Safavid Dynasty ruled from 1501 to 1722, at times controlling additional territory in Iraq and central Asia. The Safavid rulers aggressively campaigned to convert all Muslims to the Twelver sect of Shi'ism, and were largely successful. Today, roughly 90 percent of Iranians are Shi'i Muslim. At its peak, the Safavid Dynasty promoted advanced engineering, city planning, scholarship, and architecture and the arts. Shi'i scholars from Arab countries were recruited to teach in Iran. These scholars received control of Iran's educational and legal system, and assumed the religious duties of government. While Shi'i doctrine suggested that the religious scholars were the rightful leaders of the community, the scholars accepted Safavid rule.

The Safavid Dynasty fell due to its own internal decline. The economy fell into ruin, and incompetent leadership was unable to respond to the challenges. The Safavid Dynasty was ultimately replaced by the much weaker Qajar Dynasty, which fell in 1921 to a military strongman, Reza Khan, who founded the Pahlavi Dynasty. The Pahlavi Dynasty was also short-lived, falling to popular uprisings led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 resulted in the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In Egypt, the Mamluk State ruled Egypt, Syria, western Arabia, and parts of Asia Minor from 1250 to 1517, when Mamluk armies were defeated by armies of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was founded by Muslim Turks from central Asia, and at its peak, controlled territory in southeastern Europe, northern Hungary, the Middle East and Iran, and most of north Africa. The Ottoman Empire ruled from the early 14th century until its defeat in World War I. After the war, Britain, France, Italy, and Russia carved up Ottoman territory and divided it amongst themselves. Only Turkey emerged as an independent nation.

Study Questions:
1.     How did the rule of the Umayyad contribute to the spread of Islam?
2.     How was faith politicized under the Umayyad rule? Was conversion a driving force?
3.     What did the Abbasid empire contribute to the Muslim world?
4.     How was Islam’s success tied to wealth?


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