Rise of Islam

Break-up of the Caliphate

Rise of Sultanates

The Abbasid state became weaker from the ninth century. There were two main reasons for this decline. One of the reasons was the decline of Baghdad’s control over distant provinces, and another reason was the conflict between pro-Iranian and pro-Arab factions in the army and bureaucracy.

A civil war broke out between supporters of Amin and Mamun in 810. They were the sons of the caliph Harun al-Rashid. The civil war deepened the factionalism and created a new power block of Turkish slave officers (mamluk).

Minor Dynasties

A number of minor dynasties arose in this period. For example; the Tahirids and Samanids in Khurasan and Tansoxiana, and the Tulundis in Egypt and Syria. The limited power of the Abbasids was eventually lost in 945 when the Buyids captured Baghdad. Buyid was a Shiite clan from the Caspian region of Iran (Daylam). The Buyid rulers assumed various titles, e.g. the ancient Iranian title shahanshah. But they kept the Abbasid caliph as the symbolic head of their Sunni subjects in order to counter the claim of the Fatimids to rule the Islamic world. Fatimid was another Shiite dynasty which claimed to be the descendants of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima. The Fatimids conquered Egypt in 969 and established the Fatimid caliphate. The old capital of Egypt, Fustat, was replaced by a new city Qahira (Cairo). Both the dynasties patronized Shiite administrators, poets and scholars.

Between 950 and 1200, the Islamic society was not held together by a single political order or a single language of culture (Arabic) but by common economic and cultural patterns. Many factors helped in maintaining unity in the face of political divisions. These factors were; the separation between state and society, development of Persian as a language of Islamic high culture, and the maturity of dialogue between intellectual traditions.

Ideas and manners were circulated due to free movement of scholars, artists and merchants within the central Islamic lands. The Muslim population which was less than 10 percent during the Umayyad and early Abbasid periods, increased significantly. With the rise of the Turkish sultanates in the tenth and eleventh centuries, a third ethnic group was added to the Arabs and the Iranians. The Turks were nomadic tribes from the Central Asian steppes of Turkistan. The Turks gradually converted to Islam. They were skilled warriors and entered the Abbasid, Samanid and Buyid administrators as slaves and soldiers. They rose to high positions because of their loyalty and military abilities.

Ghaznavid Sultanate

The Ghaznavid sultanate was established by Alptegin in 961. It was eventually consolidated by Mahmud of Ghazni (998-1030). The Ghaznavids were a military dynasty with a professional army of Turks and Indians. For them, the Abbasid caliphs were not rivals rather a source of legitimacy. Mahmud was conscious of being the son of a slave. He was eager to receive the title of Sultan from the caliph. The caliph was willing to support the Sunni Ghaznavid to counter the Shiite power.

The Saljug Turks entered Turan as soldiers in the armies of the Samanids and Qarakhanids. Following the death of Mahmud of Ghazni, the Saljugs conquered Khurasan in 1037. After that, they turned their attention to western Persia and Iraq. In 1055, they restored Baghdad to Sunni rule. The caliph, al-Qaim, conferred the title of Sultan on Tughril Beg. This marked the separation of religious and political authority. Tugril was succeeded by his nephew Alp Arsalan. During Alp Arsalan’s tenure, the Saljug Empire expanded to Anatolia (modern Turkey).

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