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The Legacy of Islamic Empires In History

Expanding over centuries and continents, the Islamic empires were not only the epicenter of economic, political, or military power, rather they were the hubs of scientific, cultural, historical, artistic, and philosophical advancements. From the early Caliphates such as Rashidun, Umayyad, and Abbasid to the last Ottoman Empire, all have fascinating legacies containing conquest, intellectual, and cultural achievements. Their legacy and development can be seen in the modern world which continues to inform and inspire till now. The following blog provides a brief explanation of the Islamic Empires in History. 

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List of Islamic Empires in History

The following is the list of Islamic Empires in History;

  1. Rashidun Caliphate
  2. Umayyad Caliphate
  3. Abbasid Caliphate
  4. Fatimid Caliphate
  5. Ayyubid dynasty
  6. Golden Horde
  7. Timurid empire
  8. Mughal Empire
  9. Seljuk Empire
  10. Ottoman Empire

1) Rashidun Caliphate

Rashidun Caliphate was the 29-year rule and the first experience of Islam without the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It was the first caliphate ruled by the first four Rightly Guided Caliphs of Islam. The Empire was Northeast Africa and West Asia’s most powerful economic, military, and cultural force. Abu Bakr of the Banu Taym tribe, the close companion of Muhammad (PBUH) was elected as the first Caliph in Medina. After being elected as the first caliph, he started the conquest of the Arabian Peninsula. After he died in 634 CE, he was succeeded by Umar. Under the rule of Umar, the caliphate grew incredibly at an unprecedented level ruling over nearly the entire Sasanian Empire and more than two-thirds of the Byzantine Empire. 

After the death of Umar,  Uthman from the Banu Umayyah tribe became the third Rightly Guided Caliph. He concluded his conquest of Persia in 651 and Uthman failed the attempts of the Byzantines to retake lost territory and he continued to proceed with his invasions in the territory of Byzantine. Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the fourth Rightly Guided Caliph, succeeded the caliphate after the death of Uthman in 656. During the reign of Ali, the civil war called First Fitna was started by a close relative of Uthman and the governor of Syria, Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan who refused to pledge allegiance to Ali. 

Additionally, there was a third group Kharijites, formerly they were supporting Ali, who turned out to rebel against Ali and Muwaiyah after refusing to recognize the arbitration in the Battle of Siffin. The war led to the decline of the Rashidun Caliphate. The civil war solidified the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Where Shia Muslims regarded Ali’s lineage from Muhammad and believed Ali to be the first rightful Imam and Caliph after Muhammad (PBUH).

2) Umayyad Caliphate

The Umayyad Dynasty was established by Muawiyah in 661 CE and it was the first dynasty that took the title of empire. The Umayyad Caliphate was the second caliphate following the Rashidun Caliphate. Muawiyah expanded the Arab empire through the Syrian army and the capital was moved from Medina to Damascus. The Umayyads carried on the Muslim conquests, they conquered Ifriqiya, Sind, the Maghreb, Transoxiana, and Hispania (al-Andalus). When the empire extended from Spain to Central Asia and India, this was the greatest period of Umayyad under Abd al-Malik (685–705). 

The Umayyad Caliphate is one of the largest empires in history in terms of area, stretching over 11,100,000 square kilometers. There was a large multiethnic and multicultural populace during the Umayyad Caliphate. Christians and Jews constituted a majority of the caliphate’s population. They were free to follow their religions but were required to pay the poll tax, known as jizya, from which Muslims were granted an exemption. Zakat was paid by Muslims which was designated for various welfare programs.

The Umayyad Empire began to fall when defeated by the Byzantine Empire (717), due to intertribal feuding, failure of economic reforms and dissatisfaction among non-Arab Muslim converts eventually led to the decline of the Umayyad Empire. 

3) Abbasid Caliphate

Abbasid Caliphate overthrew the Umayyad Caliphate in 750 CE and became the third caliphate to succeed the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The Abbasid Caliphate took its name from the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib. The Abbasid Revolution had its early victories and beginnings in the eastern region of Khorasan which was far from the bases of Umayyad power in Iraq and Syria. First, The Abbasid Caliphate established its government in Kufa which is modern-day Iraq, later in  762  the city of Baghdad was founded by caliph Al-Mansur, near the Persian city of Ctesiphon and the ancient Babylonian capital city of Babylon.

Baghdad emerged as the center of inventions, culture, and science. During the Abbasid, manuscript techniques were produced and perfected by the Abbasid artisans which reached height and became the standard of practice. In addition, many educational institutions including “the House of Wisdom” were established during this time and gained recognition as the “Center of Learning”. This period is what is known as the Golden Age of Islam. 

The fall of the Abbasid Empire started when the  Iranian Buyids entered Baghdad in 945 and demanded recognition as the exclusive rulers of the land they had taken control from al-Mustakfī (944–946). Further, due to internal conflicts, the power of the army officers had already weakened. After these events, a century-long period was started in which much of the empire was controlled by local dynasties. In 1055, Seljuks overthrew the Abbasids and took what temporary authority may have been left to the caliph but preserved his position as the nominal head of state. This restored the caliphate rule, during the reigns of al-Mustarshid (1118–35), al-Muqtafī, and al-Nāṣir. However, in 1258, The Abbasid Caliphate fell when the Mongols besieged Baghdad.

4) Fatimid Caliphate

The Fatimid Empire or the Fatima Caliphate was a caliphate that reigned from the 10th to the 12th centuries CE, an Isma’ili Shia dynasty. The foundation of the Fatimid state came into being between 902 and 909 under the leadership of Abu Abdallah (missionary). He conquered Aghlabid Ifriqiya with the help of Kutama forces which resulted in the establishment of the Caliphate.  The Caliphate extended from the western Mediterranean in the west to the Red Sea in the east, occupying an extensive area of North Africa and West Asia. 

The Fatimids had tremendous success in achieving their goal of ruling all of Islam for several years. They governed Yemen, Palestine, parts of Syria, the Red Sea coast, and North Africa during their peak. The Mosque of al-Azhar in Cairo was built by the Fatimids, later from which they developed al-Azhar University, which is now one of the most influential Islamic institutions and the oldest university in the world. Cairo became a significant hub of art and learning during the Fatimid Dynasty. During this time, the Fatimids traded with China and Afghanistan and attempted to redirect some of Baghdad’s ships from the Arabian Gulf to the Red Sea.

Lately, the ethnic and political dispute among the different factions and the army led to a civil war in the mid-11th Century, which threatened the Fatimid Caliphate’s survival. Further, it fell rapidly during the period of the Vizier Badr al-Jamali in the late 11th and 12th Century. In the 1070s, the encroachment of Seljuk Turks into Syria, and in 1097, the arrival of the Crusaders in the Levant further weakened the Caliphate. At the end of 1171, Saladin overthrew the rule of the Fatimid Dynasty and established the Ayyubid Dynasty, bringing Egypt back under the formal jurisdiction of the Abbasid Caliphate.

5) Ayyubid Dynasty

Ayyubid Dynasty was founded by Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Ayubi, who ruled over Egypt, Yemen, and what became Upper Iraq, and most of Syria in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. The Ayyubid dynasty was named after Saladin’s father, Ayyūb (Najm al-Dīn Ayyūb ibn Shādhī) belongs to a family of Kurdish soldiers of fortune who took training and service under the Seljuk Turkish rulers in  Syria and Iraq in the 12th century. Saladin was appointed as the first Sultan of Egypt by the Abbasid Caliphate following the death of Nur ad-Din. He rapidly extended the new sultanate beyond the borders of Egypt to occupy most of the Levant,  Hijaz, northern Nubia, southern Anatolia, Yemen, Cyrenaica, Tarabulus, and northern Iraq, his Kurdish homeland.

In the first decade of his rule, Saladin’s military campaigns intended to unite the several Arab and Muslim powers in the region against the Crusaders. For almost three and a half centuries of its existence, the Caliphate had set the general borders and area of influence of the Egyptian sultanate. After his victory at the Battle of Hattin in 1187, Saladin invaded most of the Crusader states, including the Kingdom of Jerusalem. However, in the 1190s, the Crusaders took back control of Palestine’s coast. The Ayyubids were devoted Sunni Muslims who introduced the madrasah and academy of religious sciences in  Egypt and Jerusalem to convert Shi’is and Christians. Being a cultural extension and development of the Fatimids, the Ayyubids were amazing military engineers who built the walls of Aleppo and the fortress of Cairo.

After the death of Saladin in 1193, his brother al-Adil became the Sultan and his sons contested the rule of the Sultanate. The tenure of the Ayyubid Dynasty was short, its power ended in Egypt when the attempts were made to take back Egypt by Syrian Emirs. Aleppo was also occupied by the Mongols in 1260, and they quickly took over the Ayyubids’ remaining territories. The Mamluks maintained the Ayyubid principality of Hama, who expelled the Mongols until its last ruler was overthrown in  1341. Even after the empire’s decline, The sultanate set up by Saladin and the Ayyubids continued its reign over the Levant, Egypt, and the Hijaz for the next 267 years.

6) Golden Horde

The Golden Horde was established in the 13th century. Originally, it was a Mongol and later Turkicized khanate. After 1259, it became a functionally separate khanate with the division of the Mongol Empire. It is also known as the Ulug Ulus/ Kipchak Khanate or as the Ulus of Jochi.  Batu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, established the Golden Horde which later became a component of the Mongol Empire until its ultimate fall. 

In 1255, Batu Khan died but his dynasty continued to rule until 1359 for more than a full century though the partial civil war was instigated by the intrigues of Nogai in the late 1290s. The military power of the Horde Dynasty experienced the height of success during the reign of Uzbeg Khan (1312–1341), who adopted Islam. At its peak,  the territory of the Golden Horde expanded from the Urals to the Danube in the west, from Central Asia and Serbia to parts of Eastern Europe,  and from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea in the south. 

The Golden Horde experienced violent internal political conflicts known as the Great Troubles (1359–1381). However, the Golden Horde split up into smaller Tatar khanates that gradually lost power. The decline of the Horde started around the beginning of the 15th century. By 1466, It was simply known as the “Great Horde”. The last Khanates of the Golden Horde, the Crimean and Kazakh Khanates, lasted until 1783 and 1847, respectively until they were overthrown by the rapidly growing Russian state.

7) Timurid Empire

Timur (also known as Tamerlane) founded the Timurid Empire between 1370 and 1405. He was a warlord of the Turco-Mongol lineage. It was a late medieval time, culturally Persianate Turco-Mongol empire that ruled over Greater Iran in the early 15th century, including much of Central Asia, modern-day Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan,  the South Caucasus, and further parts of contemporary North India, Pakistan,  and Turkey. 

Timur continued vigorous trade relations with Ming China and the Golden Horde, with Chinese advocates like Ma Huan and Chen Cheng regularly visiting West Samarkand to buy and sell goods. The Timurids brought prosperity to the schools of miniature painting in Herāt, Tabriz, and Shiraz. The Timurids developed several Seljuk architectural traditions and adapted from them. 

In Central Asia and some regions of India,  the Timurid dynasty continued to rule over smaller nations, commonly referred to as Timurid emirates. A Timurid prince named Babur went to modern-day Afghanistan and created a small empire in 16th-century Kabulistan. He formed the Mughal Empire 20 years later by using this kingdom as an operation ground for his invasion of the Delhi Sultanate in India.

8) Mughal Empire

The Mughal Empire was an Islamic dynasty that ruled India for almost seven generations. They belonged to the Turkic conqueror Timur Lenk and the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan. Babur, the Mughal emperor from Turkestan attacked India in 1526 and defeated the Sultan of Delhi. As a result, the great Mughal Empire was founded. The Mughal Empire governed the Subcontinent for more than 200 years. They focused on the reformation of government, unity among Muslims, and artistry in the region. After Babur, the grandson of Babur, Akbar succeeded as the Mughal ruler and he ruled India from 1556 to 1605. The Mughal empire flourished greatly in his period and remarkable expansion of the empire took place. 

Due to the Hindu majority in India, problems were faced by the emperor. So, Akbar made a reformation of the government by making new reforms. He allowed all ethnicities including Hindus, Muslims, and Christians to practice their religion freely. He promoted education and artistry in the region. The famous works include carpets, Mughal paintings, and buildings. The relationship between Indians and Great Britain was established in Akbar’s era, and some reforms in current provincial governments in India and Pakistan belong to Akbar’s reign. 

After Akber, his son Jehangir came to power in India. He ruled the subcontinent from 1605 to 1627. Then Shah Jehan became Indian ruler in 1628 and ruled the Indian subcontinent till 1658. After the death of Shahjehan his son Aurangzeb took power. He was the last influential ruler of the Mughal Empire. He conquered the Muslim Deccan kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda. He showed intolerance towards the Indian Hindus which caused a rebellious movement against the Mughal Dynasty. 

After the death of Aurangzeb, the successors were unsuccessful in gaining control over the region. The empire slowly shrank during the reign of Shah Muhammad. Gradually the empire ruled only Delhi and areas around it. The British gained control in 1803. In 1837 the reign of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar began. He was then pushed out from India as according to the British he was involved in the uprising against them. Ultimately, this led to the decline of the Mughal Empire. 

9) Seljuk Empire

The Seljuk Empire, or the Great Seljuk Empire, was an advanced medieval Sunni Muslim empire uniquely Turco-Persian. It was established by the Qïnïq branch of the Oghuz Turks in 1037 by Tughril (990–1063) and his brother Chaghri (989–1060), who shared dominion over its lands. Despite being predominantly Turkish, the Seljuk Empire relied on educated Persians for administration and Muslim Arabs for religious authenticity. The Anatolian Seljuk Empire, which had its capital at Konya, was also referred to as the “Sultanate of Rum,” as Central Anatolia had previously been known by the Arabic term “Rum.”

The fragmented political landscape of the non-Arab eastern Muslim world was united by the Seljuks and they had played key roles in the First and Second Crusades. During this time, many artistic movements were founded and developed.  The Seljuk Empire began to fall by 1140 and was ultimately overthrown in 1194 by the Khwarazmian Empire in the east and the Zengids and Ayyubids in the west.  The Sultanate of Rum which was the last surviving Seljuk sultanate fell in 1308.

10) Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire also referred to as the Turkish Empire in history historically and colloquially known as the Turkish Empire, was an imperial rule that extended over much of Southeast Europe, North Africa, and West Asia from the 14th to early 20th centuries.  Between the early 16th and early 18th centuries, it also ruled parts of southeastern Central Europe. The Ottoman Empire expanded rapidly throughout the initial phase of its history, from a small principality in northwest Anatolia to most of southeast Europe and Anatolia. 

The vast Turkish empires of Central Asia and Byzantium contributed their political, economic, and social institutions to the Islamic empires of ancient times, which were combined and constructed in new ways that ultimately brought the region into the modern era. With the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by Mehmed II, the Byzantine Empire was ended by the Ottomans. Ottomans emerged as the major regional power. The empire reached the peak of its success, political development, and prosperity under Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566). 

The Ottoman Empire dominated over 32 provinces and several subsidiary kingdoms at the beginning of the 17th century. These entities were eventually either integrated into the Empire or given different levels of autonomy. Over six centuries, the Ottoman Empire led relations between the Middle East and Europe, based in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), and ruled an extensive region of the Mediterranean Basin. 

Following World War I, the Allied Powers that had emerged victorious in World War 1 divided and occupied the Ottoman Empire, which had lost its southern territories to France and the United Kingdom. The Ottoman Empire officially ended in 1922 with the overthrow of the Ottoman monarchy, following Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s successful Turkish War of Independence against the occupying Allies, which resulted in the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in the Anatolian central region.

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In Conclusion, the Islamic Empire’s legacy has been reflected in the modern world. They have left incredible marks on globalization and world history. From the early empires to the last Ottoman Empires, all have contributed significantly to the landscapes of eras. They have contributed to cultural, historical, architecture, mathematics, medicine, arts, and science which is prominent in the society. The Islamic empires reflect the interplay of various ideas, cultures, and new inventions that have shaped human civilization from time to time. 


What was the Arab Caliphate? 

The Arab Caliphate (Empire) was a religious political entity established by various rulers. It was started by the first five Rightly Guided Caliphs, carried on by various Arab families, and in the end, it was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. 

What are the five Islamic Empires? 

The first Islamic empire was the Khalidun Caliphate, and then the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Fatimid were the next three empires. The last Islamic empire was the Ottoman Empire. 

For how long did the Arab Empire last? 

The Arab Empire began with the Rashidun Caliphate in 632 C.E. It lasted for 13 years and ended with the decline of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.

What is the Islamic Empire known for? 

Islamic empire is known for its Golden Age of Islam which encompasses the middle of the 7th century to the middle of the 13th century during the Abbasid Caliphate. Islam had ruled over the world during this time.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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