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Allah will say: "This is a day on which the truthful will profit from their truth: theirs are gardens, with rivers flowing beneath,- their eternal Home: Allah well-pleased with them, and they with Allah. That is the great salvation, (the fulfilment of all desires). al-Qur'an 5:119

mercredi 9 juillet 2008

THE Golden-Islamic History


The early 'Abbasids were also fortunate in the caliber of their caliphs, especially after Harun al-Rashid came to the caliphate in 786. His reign is now the most famous in the annals of the 'Abbasids - partly because of the fictional role given him in The Thousand and One Nights (portions of which probably date from his reign), but also because his reign and those of his immediate successors marked the high point of the 'Abbasid period. As the Arab chronicles put it, Harun al-Rashid ruled when the world was young, a felicitous description of what in later times has come to be called the Golden Age of Islam.

The Golden Age was a period of unrivaled intellectual activity in all fields: science, technology, and (as a result of intensive study of the Islamic faith) literature - particularly biography, history, and linguistics. Scholars, for example, in collecting and reexamining the hadith, or "traditions" - the sayings and actions of the Prophet - compiled immense biographical detail about the Prophet and other information, historic and linguistic, about the Prophet's era. This led to such memorable works as Sirat Rasul Allah, the "Life of the Messenger of God," by Ibn Ishaq, later revised by Ibn Hisham; one of the earliest Arabic historical works, it was a key source of information about the Prophet's life and also a model for other important works of history such as al-Tabari's Annals of the Apostles and the Kings and his massive commentary on the Quran.

Photo: Persian miniature depicts students with a teacher of astronomy - one of the sciences to which scholars of the Golden Age made great contributions.

'Abbasid writers also developed new a genres of literature such as adab, the embodiment of sensible counsel, sometimes in the form of animal fables; a typical example is Kalilah wa-Dimnah, translated by Ibn al-Muqaffa' from a Pahlavi version of an Indian work. Writers of this period also studied tribal traditions and wrote the first systematic Arabic grammars.

During the Golden Age Muslim scholars also made important and original contributions to mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and chemistry. They collected and corrected previous astronomical data, built the world's first observatory, and developed the astrolabe, an instrument that was once called "a mathematical jewel." In medicine they experimented with diet, drugs, surgery, and anatomy, and in chemistry, an outgrowth of alchemy, isolated and studied a wide variety of minerals and compounds.

Important advances in agriculture were also made in the Golden Age. The 'Abbasids preserved and improved the ancient network of wells, underground canals, and waterwheels, introduced new breeds of livestock, hastened the spread of cotton, and, from the Chinese, learned the art of making paper, a key to the revival of learning in Europe in the Middle Ages.

The Golden Age also, little by little, transformed the diet of medieval Europe by introducing such plants as plums, artichokes, apricots, cauliflower, celery, fennel, squash, pumpkins, and eggplant, as well as rice, sorghum, new strains of wheat, the date palm, and sugarcane.

Photo: Muslim scientists developed the astrolabe, an instrument used long before the invention of the sextant to observe the position of celestial bodies.

Many of the advances in science, literature, and trade which took place during the Golden Age of the 'Abbasids and which would provide the impetus for the European Renaissance reached their flowering during the caliphate of al-Mamun, son of Harun al-Rashid and perhaps the greatest of all the 'Abbasids. But politically the signs of decay were already becoming evident. The province of Ifriqiyah - North Africa west of Libya and east of Morocco - had fallen away from 'Abbasid control during the reign of Harun al-Rashid, and under al-Mamun other provinces soon broke loose also. When, for example, al-Mamun marched from Khorasan to Baghdad, he left a trusted general named Tahir ibn al-Husayn in charge of the eastern province. Tahir asserted his independence of the central government by omitting mention of the caliph's name in the mosque on Friday and by striking his own coins - acts which became the standard ways of expressing political independence. From 821 onward Tahir and his descendants ruled Khorasan as an independent state, with the tacit consent of the 'Abbasids.

Al-Mamun died in 833, in the town of Tarsus, and was succeeded by his brother, al-Mu'tasim, under whose rule the symptoms of decline that had manifested themselves earlier grew steadily worse. As he could no longer rely on the loyalty of his army, al-Mu'tasim recruited an army of Turks from Transoxania and Turkestan. It was a necessary step, but its outcome was dominance of the caliphate by its own praetorian guard. In the years following 861, the Turks made and unmade rulers at will, a trend that accelerated the decline of the central authority. Although the religious authority of the 'Abbasid caliphate remained unchallenged, the next four centuries saw political power dispersed among a large number of independent states: Tahirids, Saffarids, Samanids, Buwayhids, Ziyarids, and Ghaznavids in the east; Hamdanids in Syria and northern Mesopotamia; and Tulunids, Ikhshidids, and Fatimids in Egypt.

Photo: Books of fables, often illustrated, served a dual purpose to instruct and to entertain.

Some of these states made important contributions to Islamic culture. Under the Samanids, the Persian language, written in the Arabic alphabet, first reached the level of a literary language and poets like Rudaki, Daqiqi, and Firdausi flourished. The Ghaznavids patronized al-Biruni, one of the greatest and most original scholars of medival Islam, and the Hamdanids, a purely Arab dynasty, patronized such poets as al-Mutanabbi and philosophers like the great al-Farabi, whose work kept the flame of Arab culture alive in a difficult period. But in historical terms, only the Fatimids rivaled the preceding dynasties.

THE FatiMIDS-Islamic History


The most stable of the successor dynasties founded in the ninth and tenth centuries was that of the Fatimids, a branch of Shi'is. The Fatimids won their first success in North Africa, where they established a rival caliphate at Raqqadah near Kairouan and, in 952, embarked on a period of expansion that within a few years took them to Egypt.

Photo: Founded in 970, the mosque of al-Azhar in Cairo is one of the earliest and finest examples of the Egyptian style in Islamic architecture.

For a time the Fatimids aspired to be rulers of the whole Islamic world, and their achievements were impressive. At their peak they ruled North Africa, the Red Sea coast, Yemen, Palestine, and parts of Syria. The Fatimids built the Mosque of al-Azhar in Cairo - from which developed al-Azhar University, now the oldest university in the world and perhaps the most influential Islamic school of higher learning. Fatimid merchants traded with Afghanistan and China and tried to divert some of Baghdad's Arabian Gulf shipping to the Red Sea.

But the Fatimids' dreams of gaining control of the Islamic heartland came to nothing, partly because many other independent states refused to support them and partly because they, like the 'Abbasids in Baghdad, lost effective control of their own mercenaries. Such developments weakened the Fatimids, but thanks to a family of viziers of Armenian origin they were able to endure until the Ayyubid succession in the second half of the twelfth century - even in the face of the eleventh-century invasion by the Seljuk Turks.

THE seLjuk turks-Islamic History


Although individual Turkish generals had already gained considerable, and at times decisive, power in Mesopotamia and Egypt during the tenth and eleventh centuries, the coming of the Seljuks signaled the first large-scale penetration of the Turkish elements into the Middle East. Descended from a tribal chief named Seljuk, whose homeland lay beyond the Oxus River near the Aral Sea, the Seljuks not only developed a highly effective fighting force but also, through their close contacts with Persian court life in Khorasan and Transoxania, attracted a body of able administrators. Extending from Central Asia to the Byzantine marches in Asia Minor, the Seljuk state under its first three sultans- Tughril Beg, Alp-Arslan, and Malikshah- established a highly cohesive, well-administered Sunni state under the nominal authority of the 'Abbasid caliphs at Baghdad.

One of the administrators, the Persian Nizam-al-Mulk, became one of the greatest statesmen of medieval Islam. For twenty years, especially during the rule of Sultan Malikshah, he was the true custodian of the Seljuk state. In addition to having administrative abilities, he was an accomplished stylist whose book on statecraft, Siyasat-Namah, is a valuable source for the political thought of the time. In it he stresses the responsibilities of the ruler: for example, if a man is killed because a bridge is in disrepair, it is the fault of the ruler, for he should make it his business to apprise himself of the smallest negligences of his underlings. Nizam-al-Mulk, furthermore, was a devout and orthodox Muslim who established a system of madrasahs or theological seminaries (called nizamiyah after the first element of his name) to provide students with free education in the religious sciences of Islam, as well as in the most advanced scientific and philosophical thought of the time. The famous theologian al-Ghazali whose greatest work, the Revival of the Sciences of Religion, was a triumph of Sunni theology taught for a time at the nizamiyah schools at Baghdad and at Nishapur. Nizam-al-Mulk was the patron of the poet and astronomer 'Umar al-Khayyam (Omar Khayyam), whose verses, as translated by Edward FitzGerald in the nineteenth century, have become as familiar to English readers as the sonnets of Shakespeare.

After the death of Malikshah in 1092, internal conflict among the young heirs led to the fragmentation of the Seljuks' central authority into smaller Seljuk states led by various members of the family, and still smaller units led by regional chieftains, no one of whom was able to unite the Muslim world as still another force appeared in the Middle East: the Crusaders.

The most imposing of the many fortresses built by the Crusaders the elegant Krak des Chevaliers in Syria (top) held out against the Muslims for over a century and a half. The Crusader castle at Sidon in Lebanon (below) was abandoned after the final defeat of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.

THE crusaders-Islamic History


To Arab historians, the Crusaders were a minor irritant, their invasion one more barbarian incursion, not nearly as serious a threat as the Mongols were to prove in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The First Crusade began in 1095 after the Byzantines - threatened by Seljuk power- appealed to Pope Urban II for military aid. Pope Urban, hoping to divert the Christian kings and princes from their struggles with each other, and perhaps also seeing an opportunity to reunite the Eastern and Western churches, called for a "Truce of God" among the rulers of Europe and urged them to take the Holy Land from the Muslims.

Photo: The most impossing of the many fortresses built by the crusaders, the elegant krak des Chevailers in Syria held out against the Muslims for over a century and a half.

Considered dispassionately, the venture was impossible. The volunteers - a mixed assemblage of kings, nobles, mercenaries, and adventurers - had to cross thousands of miles of unfamiliar and hostile country and conquer lands of whose strength they had no conception. Yet so great was their fervor that in 1099 they took Jerusalem, establishing along the way principalities in Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli. Although unable to fend off the Crusaders at first - even offering the Crusaders access to Jerusalem if they would come as pilgrims rather than invaders - the Muslims eventually began to mount effective counterattacks. They recaptured Aleppo and besieged Edessa, thus bringing on the unsuccessful Second Crusade.

In the meantime the Crusaders - or Franks, the Arabs called them - had extended their reach to the borders of Egypt, where the Fatimids had fallen after two hundred years. There they faced a young man called Salah al-Din (Saladin) who had founded still another new dynasty, the Ayyubids, and who was destined to blunt the thrust of the Crusaders' attack. In 1187 Saladin counterattacked, eventually recapturing Jerusalem. The Europeans mounted a series of further crusading expeditions against the Muslims over the next hundred years or so, but the Crusaders never again recovered the initiative. Confined to the coast, they ruled small areas until their final defeat at the hands of the Egyptian Mamluks at the end of the thirteenth century.

Photo: The Crusader castle at Sidon in Lebanon was abandoned after the final defeat of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Although the Crusades achieved no lasting results in terms of military conquest, they were important in the development of trade, and their long-range effects on Western society - on everything from feudalism to fashion - are inestimable. Ironically, they also put an end to the centuries-old rivalry between the Arabs and Byzantines. By occupying Constantinople, the capital of their Christian allies, in the Fourth Crusade, the Crusaders achieved what the Arabs had been trying to do from the early days of Islam. Although the Byzantine Empire continued until 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, it never recovered its former power after the Fourth Crusade, and subsisted only in the half-light of history during its remaining years.

For the West, however, the Crusaders' greatest achievement was the opening of the eastern Mediterranean to European shipping. The Venetians and Genoese established trading colonies in Egypt, and luxury goods of the East found their way to European markets. In the history of the Middle Ages, this was far more important than ephemeral conquests. Control of the Eastern trade became a constantly recurring theme in later relations between the European countries and the East, and in the nineteenth century was to lead to widespread Western intervention.

THE mongols AND the mamluks-Islamic History


In the thirteenth century still another threat to the Muslim world appeared in the land beyond the Oxus: the Mongols. Led by Genghis Khan, a confederation of nomadic tribes which had already conquered China now attacked the Muslims. In 1220 they took Samarkand and Bukhara. By mid-century they had taken Russia, Central Europe, northern Iran, and the Caucuses, and in 1258, under Hulagu Khan, they invaded Baghdad and put an end to the remnants of the once-glorious 'Abbasid Empire. The ancient systems of irrigation were destroyed and the devastation was so extensive that agricultural recovery, even in the twentieth century, is still incomplete. Because a minor scion of the dynasty took refuge with the Mamluks in Egypt, the 'Abbasid caliphate continued in name into the sixteenth century. In effect, however, it expired with the Mongols and the capture of Baghdad. From Iraq the Mongols pressed forward into Syria and then toward Egypt where, for the first time, they faced adversaries who refused to quail before their vaunted power. These were the Mamluks, soldier-slaves from the Turkish steppe area north of the Black and Caspian Seas with a later infusion of Circassians from the region of the Caucuses Mountains.

The Mamluks had been recruited by the Ayyubids and then, like the Turkish mercenaries of the 'Abbasid caliphs, had usurped power from their enfeebled masters. Unlike their predecessors, however, they were able to maintain their power, and they retained control of Egypt until the Ottoman conquest in 1517. Militarily formidable, they were also the first power to defeat the Mongols in open combat when, in 1260, the Mongols moved against Palestine and Egypt. Alerted by a chain of signal fires stretching from Iraq to Egypt, the Mamluks were able to marshal their forces in time to meet, and crush, the Mongols at 'Ayn Jalut near Nazareth in Palestine.

Photo: The Mamluks, originally a class of soldier slaves, seized power in Egypt in the thirteenth century and stood fast against the Mongols.

In the meantime, the Mongols, like so many of the peoples who had come into contact with Islam, had begun to embrace it. At the dawn of the fourteenth century, Ghazan Khan Mahmud officially adopted Islam as the religion of the state, and for a time peace descended on the eastern portion of the Mongol empire. During this period the Mongols built mosques and schools and patronized scholarship of all sorts. But then, in 1380, a new Turko-Mongol confederation was hammered together by another world conqueror: Tamerlane, who claimed descent from Genghis Khan. Under Tamerlane, the Mongol forces swept down on Central Asia, India, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, occupying Aleppo and Damascus and threatening - but not defeating - the Mamluks. Once again, however, the Muslims survived their invaders. Tamerlane died on his way to conquer China, and his empire melted away.

Politically and economically, the Mongol invasions were disastrous. Some regions never fully recovered and the Muslim empire, already weakened by internal pressures, never fully regained its previous power. The Mongol invasions, in fact, were a major cause of the subsequent decline that set in throughout the heartland of the Arab East. In their sweep through the Islamic world the Mongols killed or deported numerous scholars and scientists and destroyed libraries with their irreplaceable works. The result was to wipe out much of the priceless cultural, scientific, and technological legacy that Muslim scholars had been preserving and enlarging for some five hundred years.

THE legacy-Islamic History


The foundation of this legacy was the astonishing achievements of Muslim scholars, scientists, craftsmen, and traders during the two hundred years or so that are called the Golden Age. During this period, from 750 to 950, the territory of the Muslim Empire encompassed present-day Iran, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, North Africa, Spain, and parts of Turkey and drew to Baghdad peoples of all those lands in an unparalleled cross-fertilization of once isolated intellectual traditions.

Geographical unity, however, was but one factor. Another was the development of Arabic, by the ninth century, into the language of international scholarship as well as the language of the Divine Truth. This was one of the most significant events in the history of ideas.

A third important factor was the establishment in Baghdad of a paper mill. The introduction of paper, replacing parchment and papyrus, was a pivotal advance which had effects on education and scholarship as far reaching as the invention of printing in the fifteenth century. It made it possible to put books within the reach of everyone.

Unlike the Byzantines, with their suspicion of classical science and philosophy, the Muslims were enjoined by the Prophet to "seek learning as far as China" - as, eventually, they did. In the eighth century, however, they had a more convenient source: the works of Greek scientists stored in libraries in Constantinople and other centers of the Byzantine empire. In the ninth century the Caliph al-Mamun, son of the famous Harun al-Rashid, began to tap that invaluable source. With the approval of the Byzantine emperor, he dispatched scholars to select and bring back to Baghdad Greek scientific manuscripts for translation into Arabic at Bayt al-Hikmah, "the House of Wisdom."

Bayt al-Hikmah was a remarkable assemblage of scholar-translators who undertook a Herculean task: to translate into Arabic all of what had survived of the philosophical and scientific tradition of the ancient world and incorporate it into the conceptual framework of Islam.

As the early scholars in the Islamic world agreed with Aristotle that mathematics was the basis of all science, the scholars of the House of Wisdom first focused on mathematics. Ishaq ibn Hunayn and Thabit ibn Qurrah, for example, prepared a critical edition of Euclid's Elements, while other scholars translated a commentary on Euclid originally written by a mathematician and inventor from Egypt, and still others translated at least eleven major works by Archimedes, including a treatise on the construction of a water clock. Other translations included a book On mathematical theory by Nichomachus of Gerasa, and works by mathematicians like Theodosius of Tripoli, Apollonius Pergacus, Theon, and Menelaus, all basic to the great age of Islamic mathematical speculation that followed.

The first great advance on the inherited mathematical tradition was the introduction of "Arabic" numerals, which actually originated in India and which simplified calculation of all sorts and made possible the development of algebra. Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwaraznli seems to have been the first to explore their use systematically, and wrote the famous Kitab al-Jabr wa-l-Muqabalah, the first book on algebra, a name derived from the second word in his title. One of the basic meanings of jabr in Arabic is "bonesetting," and al-Khwarazmi used it as a graphic description of one of the two operations he uses for the solution of quadratic equations.

The scholars at Bayt al-Hikmah also contributed to geometry, a study recommended by Ibn Khaldun, the great North African historian, because "it enlightens the intelligence of the man who cultivates it and gives him the habit of thinking exactly." The men most responsible for encouraging the study of geometry were the sons of Musa ibn Shakir, al-Mamurl's court astronomer. Called Banu Musa - "the sons of Musa" - these three men, Muhammad, Ahmad, and al-Hasan, devoted their lives and fortunes to the quest for knowledge. They not only sponsored translations of Greek works, but wrote a series of important original studies of their own, one bearing the impressive title The Measurement of the Sphere, Trisection of the Angle, and Determination of Two Mean Proportionals to Form a Single Division between Two Given Quantities.

The Banu Musa also contributed works on celestial mechanics and the atom, helped with such practical projects as canal construction, and in addition recruited one of the greatest of the ninth-century scholars, Thabit ibn Qurrah.

During a trip to Byzantium in search of manuscripts, Muhammad ibn Musa happened to meet Thabit ibn Qurrah, then a money changer but also a scholar in Syriac, Greek, and Arabic. Impressed by Thabit's learning, Muhammad personally presented him to the caliph, who was in turn so impressed that he appointed Thabit court astrologer. As Thabit's knowledge of Greek and Syriac was unrivaled, he contributed enormously to the translation of Greek scientific writing and also produced some seventy original works - in mathematics, astronomy, astrology, ethics, mechanics, music, medicine, physics, philosophy, and the construction of scientific instruments.

Although the House of Wisdom originally concentrated on mathematics, it did not exclude other subjects. One of its most famous scholars was Hunayn ibn Ishaq, Ishaq's father - known to the West as Joanitius - who eventually translated the entire canon of Greek medical works into Arabic, including the Hippocratic oath. Later a director of the House of Wisdom, Hunayn also wrote at least twenty-nine original treatises of his own on medical topics, and a collection of ten essays on ophthalmology which covered, in systematic fashion, the anatomy and physiology of the eye and the treatment of various diseases which afflict vision. The first known medical work to include anatomical drawings, the book was translated into Latin and for centuries was the authoritative treatment of the subject in both Western and Eastern universities.

Others prominent in Islamic medicine were Yuhanna ibn Masawayh, a specialist in gynecology and the famous Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi - known to the West as Rhazes. According to a bibliography of his writings al-Razi wrote 184 works, including a huge compendium of his experiments, observations, and diagnoses with the title al-Hawi, "The All-Encompassing."

A fountainhead of medical wisdom during the Islamic era, al-Razi, according to one contemporary account, was also a fine teacher and a compassionate physician, who brought rations to the poor and provided nursing for them. He was also a man devoted to common sense, as the titles of two of his works suggest. The Reason Why Some Persons and the Common People Leave a Physician Even If He Is Clever, and A Clever Physician Does Not Have the Power to Heal All Diseases, for That is Not within the Realm of Possibility.

The scholars at the House of Wisdom, unlike their modern counterparts, did not "specialize." Al-Razi, for example, was a philosopher and a mathematician as well as a physician and al-Kindi, the first Muslim philosopher to use Aristotelian logic to support Islamic dogma, also wrote on logic, philosophy, geometry, calculation, arithmetic, music, and astronomy. Among his works were such titles as An Introduction to the Art of Music, The Reason Why Rain Rarely Falls in Certain Places, The Cause of Vertigo, and Crossbreeding the Dove.

Another major figure in the Islamic Golden Age was al-Farabi, who wrestled with many of the same philosophical problems as al-Kindi and wrote The Perfect City, which illustrates to what degree Islam had assimilated Greek ideas and then impressed them with its own indelible stamp. This work proposed that the ideal city be founded on moral and religious principles from which would flow the physical infrastructure. The Muslim legacy included advances in technology too. Ibn al-Haytham, for example, wrote The Book of Optics, in which he gives a detailed treatment of the anatomy of the eye, correctly deducing that the eye receives light from the object perceived and laying the foundation for modern photography. In the tenth century he proposed a plan to dam the Nile. It was by no means theoretical speculation; many of the dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts constructed at this time throughout the Islamic world still survive.

Photo: At Hama in Syria, antique wooden wheels still lift the waters of the Orontes to gardens, baths, and cooling fountains.

Muslim engineers also perfected the waterwheel and constructed elaborate underground water channels called qanats. Requiring a high degree of engineering skill, qanats were built some fifty feet underground with a very slight inclination over long distances to tap underground water and were provided with manholes so that they could be cleaned and repaired.

Agricultural advances are also part of the Muslim legacy. Important books were written on soil analysis, water, and what kinds of crops were suited to what soil. Because there was considerable interest in new varieties - for nutritive and medicinal purposes - many new plants were introduced: sorghum, for example, which had recently been discovered in Africa.

The introduction of numerous varieties of fruits and vegetables and other plants to the West via the Islamic empire was, however, largely the result of the vast expansion of trade during the Golden Age. This trade was vital; in the central lands of the 'Abbasid empire natural resources such as metals and wood were scarce, and increases in urban populations had outstripped the capacity of the agricultural system to support them. The 'Abbasids, therefore, were forced to develop extensive and complicated patterns of trade. To obtain food, for example, Baghdad had to import wheat from Syria and Egypt, rice from the Fayyum in Egypt, southern Morocco, and Spain, and olive oil from Tunisia. Called "a forest of olive trees," Tunisia exported so much olive oil that its port of Sfax was called "the port of oil."

To obtain scarce metals the 'Abbasids had to turn elsewhere. They imported the technologically advanced "ondanique" steel from India, for example, and then processed it at such famous centers of weapons manufacture as Damascus and Toledo, both of which cities won fame for their blades. The 'Abbasids also imported iron from Europe, tin from the British Isles and Malaya, and silver from northern Iran, Afghanistan, and the Caucuses. For gold, once the vast quantities in the treasuries of the conquered countries were exhausted, they turned to several sources. One was the gold mines of the Hijaz which were reopened around 750, reworked for about four hundred years, and then, in 1931, explored again by Karl Twitchell, who was searching for minerals in that area on behalf of King 'Abd al-'Aziz of Saudi Arabia.

For these necessities the 'Abbasid traders exchanged a wide variety of products: pearls, livestock, paper, sugar, and (a specialty of the Islamic world) luxurious cloth. The traditional cloths were wool and linen - the latter an Egyptian specialty since ancient times - but cotton, which was introduced into upper Iraq about the time of the Prophet, later spread with Islam around the Mediterranean, to Syria, North Africa, Spain, Sicily, Cyprus, and Crete.

The cloth trade produced a number of auxiliary exports: gold and silver thread for embroidery, gum from the Sudan for glazing, and needles, looms, and dyestuffs. Closely connected with the trade in dyestuffs was the trade in medicines, an offshoot of 'Abbasid advances in medicine and the spread of hospitals in all major Islamic cities. As scientific research and translation of medical texts from India and possibly even China expanded the earlier pharmacopoeia, ingredients for medicines were brought from all over the known world and also reexported.

Because the religious, political, and military achievements of the Islamic period loom so large in the history of the world, the extraordinary cultural, scientific, technological, and commercial achievements are frequently obscured or overlooked. Yet these advances were, in fact, of enduring significance to mankind as a whole. The destruction by the Mongols of many of these achievements and of much of what the Muslims had accomplished by the end of the Golden Age was a tragic loss for the world as a whole.

Architectural monuments spanning a thousand years bear witness to the spread of Islam.

Photo: Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock, built in 691-692.

Photo: Purity of line characterizes the late twelfth century Kutubiyah Mosque of the Berbers in Marrakesh.

Photo: Water courses and fountains make an oasis of the Alhambra palace built at Granada in the fourteenth century Here incredibly light and elegant elements of Islamic decoration find their highest realization.

Photo: Sixteenth century Sultan Selim Mosque at Edirne is the apogee of Ottoman Turkish architecture, soaring space enclosed with a massive dome.

Photo: Persia's greatest contribution to ornament, gloriously colored enameled tile, faces the dome and stalactite portal of Shaykh Lutf Allah Mosque, built in the early 1600s on Isfahan's vast royal plaza.

Photo: The peak of Mogul architecture and possibly the most famous work of all times and cultures is the dazzling Taj Mahal mausoleum built at Agra in 1629.

THE ottomans-Islamic History


During the second Mongol invasion, Tamerlane had met and very nearly annihilated another rising power: the Ottomans. Under a minor chieftain named Othman, groups of Turkish-speaking peoples in Anatolia were united in the Ottoman confederation which, by the second half of the fourteenth century, had conquered much of present-day Greece and Turkey and was threatening Constantinople.

The Ottoman state was born on the frontier between Islam and the Byzantine Empire. Turkish tribes, driven from their homeland in the steppes of Central Asia by the Mongols, had embraced Islam and settled in Anatolia on the battle lines of the Islamic world, where they formed the Ottoman confederation. They were called ghazis, warriors for the faith, and their highest ambition was to die in battle for their adopted religion.

In addition to their military abilities the Turks seem to have been endowed with a special talent for organization. Towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, this talent fossilized into bureaucracy - and a moribund bureaucracy at that. But at the beginning, when its institutions were responsive to the needs of the people and the state, the Ottoman Empire was a model of administrative efficiency. This, together with a series of brilliant sultans - culminating in the redoubtable Suleiman the Magnificent - established the foundations of an empire that at its height was comparable to that of the Romans.

The first important step in the establishment of this empire was taken in 1326 when the Ottoman leader Orhan captured the town of Bursa, south of the Sea of Marmara, and made it his capital.

It was probably during the reign of Orhan that the famous institution of the Janissaries, a word derived from the Turkish yeni cheri ("new troops"), was formed. An elite corps of slave soldiers conscripted from the subject population of the empire, they were carefully selected on the basis of physique and intelligence, educated, trained, introduced to Islam, and formed into one of the most formidable military corps ever known. At a later period the Janissaries became so powerful that they made and unmade sultans at their will, and membership in the corps was a sure road to advancement.

Photo: The mosque at Kyustendi in Bulgaria was founded during Ottoman rule.

Orhan's successor, Murad I, who launched naval attacks upon the Aegean coasts of Europe, established himself on the European shores of the Bosporus, and crushed a Balkan coalition. The next Ottoman leader was Bayazid I, who besieged Constantinople and routed the armies dispatched by an alarmed Europe to raise the siege.

It was at this point in history that Tamerlane and his Mongols advanced into Anatolia and very nearly crushed the Ottomans forever. They recovered, however, and later, under the leadership of a new sultan, Murad II, besieged Constantinople for the second time. They were repulsed, but by 1444 they had advanced into Greece and Albania, leaving Constantinople isolated though unconquered. Murad II was succeeded by Mehmed (Muhammad) II, called "The Conqueror" because on May 29, 1453, after his artillery finally breached Constantinople's massive walls, the city fell.

After the fall of Constantinople, and during the sixteenth century, the Ottoman system evolved the centralized administrative framework by which the sultans maintained effective control over the extraordinarily diverse peoples in the vast empire.

An important part of this framework was the millet system - essentially a division of the empire into a communal system based upon religious affiliation. Each millet was relatively autonomous, was ruled by its own religious leader, and retained its own laws and customs. The religious leader, in turn, was responsible to the sultan or his representatives for such details as the payment of taxes. There were also, however, organizations which united the diverse peoples. Particularly important were the guilds of artisans which often cut across the divisions of religion and location.

There was also a territorial organization of the empire, at the upper levels of which was a unit called the muqata'ah under the control of a noble or administrator who could keep some portion of the state revenues derived from it. The amount varied with the importance of the individual noble or administrator, and he could use it as he saw fit. Such rights were also given to some administrators or governors in place of, or in addition to, salaries, thus insuring a regular collection of revenues and reducing record keeping.

The Ottoman Empire reached its peak in size and splendor under the sultan called Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled from 1520 to 1566 and was known to the Turks as Suleiman the Law-Giver. But from the middle of the sixteenth century on the empire began to decline. This process got under way as the office of the Grand Vizier gradually assumed more power and indifferent sultans began to neglect administration. Another factor was that the Janissaries became too strong for the sultans to control The sultans were further weakened when it became customary to bring them up and educate them in isolation and without the skills necessary to rule effectively.

Some sultans later regained power through political maneuvering and by playing off factions against one another, but as a result administration was paralyzed. When Europe found a new route to India - thus eliminating the traditional transshipment of goods through the Arab regions of the empire, revenues began to fall, triggering inflation, corruption, administrative inefficiency, and fragmentation of authority.

Temporary reforms under various sultans, and the still formidable, if weakened, military prowess of the Ottomans helped maintain their empire. As late as 1683, for example, they besieged Vienna. Nevertheless, the decline continued. Because of the increasingly disruptive part played by the Janissaries, the empire, in a series of eighteenth-century wars, slowly lost territory. Because of administrative paralysis, local governors became increasingly independent and, eventually, revolts broke out. Even the various reform movements were balked, and with the invasion of Egypt in 1798 by France it became obvious that the once powerful empire was weakening.

In 1824 Mahmud II finally broke the power of the Janissaries, brought in German advisers to restructure the army, and launched a modernization program. He also brought the semi-autonomous rulers in various provinces under control, with the exception of the defiant and able Muhammad 'Ali in Egypt. On the death of Mahmud, his sons continued his efforts with a series of reforms called the tanzimat. Some of these were no more than efforts to placate European powers - which by then had great influence on the empire's policies - but others, in education and law, were important. Again, however, the effects were temporary and the empire continued to lose territory through rebellion or foreign intervention.

By the early years of the twentieth century the Ottoman Empire was clearly in decline and was referred to as the "Sick Man of Europe." There were, however, some positive accomplishments in this period, such as the Hijaz Railway. Building the railway was undertaken in 1900 by Sultan Abdul-Hamid, as a pan-Islamic project. Completed in 1908, it permitted thousands of Muslims to make the pilgrimage in relative comfort and safety. It also helped to give the Ottoman government more effective control over its territories in western Arabia.

Photo: The Hijaz Railway, completed by the Turks in 1908, linked Damascus with Medina, eight hundred miles to the south.

During the early twentieth century too, a group called the Young Turks forced the restoration of the constitution (which had been suspended by Abdul-Hamid), eventually deposed the sultan, and again attempted to modernize the Ottoman state. The Turkish defeat in the First World War (in which the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany and the Central Powers) finally discredited the Young Turks, however, and paved the way for the success of a new nationalist movement under the leadership of an army officer named Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk or "Father of the Turks." The nationalist government under Ataturk, dedicated to leading Turkey in the direction of secularism and Westernization, abolished the sultanate, declared a republic, and eventually (in 1924) abolished the caliphate as well.