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Islamic History and "Moderate" Islam

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Submitted by Michael S (United States), Nov 30, 2015 at 17:30

Hi, Demsci.

In the space of an hour, I hope to learn and disseminate the gist of Islamic history. My principal source is the Penguin Atlas(es ) of Medieval (and Modern) History, by Colin McEvedy.

In chronological order,

1. Arab, Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates which began in Arabia and spread from Spain to Central Asia, dominating Islam from AD 622 to 945. Muhammed was alive for only ten years of this period; then came the period of the "successors", from which the Sunni/ Shia split ensued. All the major Sunni schools were also founded in this period: Hanafi, Maliki, Shaf'i, Hanbali and Zahiri. This was also the period of several "Fitnas" or civil wars, some of which led to the overthrows of dynasties. As a result of these, the center of Islam moved from Mecca (Arab period) to Damascus (Umayyad) to Baghdad. After the Abbasid victory, the Umayyad line lived on in Iberia (Spain & Portugal). Obviously, this was a period of forced conformity, and of a deep connection between secular and religious power.

2. The Fatimid Caliphate (945-1171) and Persian (Buwayhid and Samanid) Emirates (-1055); also the Seljuk Sultanate. These were the first great Shiite empires, the former having been Sunni. Besides being Shiite, the Fatimids were Berbers from NW Africa. The Seljuks were Hanafi Sunni Muslim Turks, who had been employed by the Buwayhids and then revolted and overthrew them. It was the Seljuks who faced and were defeated by the Christian Crusaders in 1099. By this time, the Fatimids had become Sunni and their Berber cousins in NW Africa, the Murabits and Muwahids, were fanatical Shiites. Fatimid Egypt was a center of religious toleration during this period, because the rulers were of a minority race and sect. The Jews enjoyed their "Golden Age" in Spain during this period; and when the Murabits conquered that land, many Jews (including the famous Maimonides or RAMBAM) fled to Egypt. The Seljuk Sultanate eventually broke up into little emirates, including the Zangids, who conquered Fatimid Egypt.

3. The Ayyubids (Kurds, initially under Saladin) (1171-1249) in Egypt, Mecca and the Levant; the Shiite Muwahids in NW Africa, the Shahdom of Khwarizm in Iran and Central Asia, and the restored but diminished Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad and Southern Iraq. Saladin drove the Christians out of Jerusalem, and became the most powerful Muslim ruler of the time. The Ayyubids, Abbasids and Seljuk remnants wer Sunni; the others were Shi'ite. Because the "Pope" of Islam, namely, the Abbasid Calif, was the ruler of only a minor state, he had limited real authority -- much like his Christian counterpart in Rome.

4. The Mongols (in Persia & Turkey) and Mamlukes (in Egypt, Mecca and the Levant). The Mongol invasion was a definitive blow to Islamic prestige; they destroyed Baghdad and many places they conquered, and ended the great Caliphate. The Mamlukes, meanwhile, were a privileged military order composed of non-Arabs, something of an "Arab Foreign Legion". The Berber Hafsids maintained a minor caliphate in NW Africa. The Mongols were initially terrifying; but they settled down to become fairly tolerant Sunnis. The land was so peaceful in their day, that Marco Polo could journey from Italy to China through their lands without being molested. Like the Fatimids, they were probably tolerant because they were a minority.

5. The Ottoman Turks, alongside the Mongol and Turkish emirates in Iran and Central Asia. The Ottomans eventually absorbed the Mamlukes and Hafsids, and became the longest-lasting Muslim empire. They ruled over many Christians as well, and the core of their strength were converted Christian-to-Muslim "Janissaries". They were Sunni and reasonably tolerant (because, like the Fatimids before them) they were minorities in the lands they ruled.

6. The modern era, and rising intolerance, extremism and violence. This was a time of Arabs, Turks and Persians ruling in countries where they were a MAJORITY. Nationalism and Democracy obviously do not correlate well with "moderate" Islam.

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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