The Islamic World to 1600
With a few exceptions, such as the 14th century work of Ibn Khaldun, the Golden Age of Islamic learning ended with the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. As they made their way across Central Asia, the Mongols destroyed Muslim libraries, observatories, hospitals, and universities, culminating in the sack of Baghdad, the Abbasid capital and intellectual centre, in 1258. Many scholars perished in the ensuing mass murders. The following era saw a rise in conservatism, as Muslim leaders tried to preserve what remained of their civilisation. Innovative and original ideas were not welcomed the way they had been before the invasion, and philosophy was the first branch of learning to suffer. The sciences soon followed, and by the 16th century the torch of intellectual development had been passed to Europe. Islamic arts did not suffer the same fate from the Mongol invasion as scholarly pursuits. The Mongols kept artisans they deemed useful, and the invasion also opened the Islamic world to artistic influences from China. As we saw earlier in this chapter, many art forms continued to flourish as the Mongol empires gave way to the rise of the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires.
In exploring the history of the Islamic world from its beginnings in the 7th century to the decline of the three Great Empires around 1600, this tutorial examined the major political, military, and cultural events that shaped the first 1000 years of Islamic history. From pre-Islamic Arabia we saw how the Islamic faith began and spread; we saw the Islamicisation of lands stretching from Southeast Asia to Northwest Africa; we saw how the Mongol invasions drastically altered the future of the Islamic world, leading to the rise of three formidable Islamic empires in Turkey, Iran, and India. Finally, we have seen how the Islamic faith influenced a distinct style of art and architecture, and how its adherents led the medieval world in intellectual pursuits. By understanding the origins and early history of this major world religion, we are better equipped to understand the Islamic world in the 18th, 19th, 20th, and especially, the 21st century.
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