Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The Arabs Versus the Turks

Painting of Sultan Bayezid I 

imprisoned by Tamerlane

The Arabs were the first conquerers of Islam, and they were also the first Islamic empire to be utterly devastated by other Islamic groups. Between 635 AD and 720 AD, the Arab armies cut through a series of kingdoms and they conquered an Islamic empire that stretched from Sind in the Indian subcontinent to North Africa and Europe’s Iberian Peninsula. 

The Arab success was impressive, but short-lived. By the tenth century, the Arabs had lost most of their conquests to new Islamic groups. 

The biggest devastation that the Islamic Turks unleashed was not in India or Europe but in the Arab heartland of the Middle East. The Turkish upsurge was so powerful and deadly that the Arabs were pushed back, permanently it seems, into the Arabian desert from where they had emerged in the seventh century. The Abbasid Caliphate went into decline after the tenth century, and it was utterly devastated by the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258. 

In the twelfth century, Egypt and large parts of the Middle East went into the hands of Saladin, who was a Kurd. After Saladin’s death his territories went to the Mamluks, who were originally from Eastern Europe and Central Asia. 

In the fourteenth century, before Tamerlane turned his attention to India, his army smashed into Mamluk Syria and Egypt. He devastated the Mamluks, and wiped out the last vestiges of Arab power. The military success of the Turks led to the rise of the Turkish Ottoman Empire which, at its peak in the sixteenth century, included Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and parts of the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.

In the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, the descendants of Tamerlane founded the Mughal (Timurid) Empire in the sixteenth century. The Mughals did not show any deference to the Arabs—why should they, since now the Arabs owned nothing except their traditional homeland, the desert of Arabia. The Mughal alliances were with the Persians and the Turks. Till 1924, when Ottoman Empire fell, the Turks were the dominant political power in Islam. They were also the dominant religious power, through the Ottoman caliphate.

In the twentieth century, when petroleum became a precious commodity, the Western powers started intervening in the Middle East. With Western (mainly American and British) military and economic assistance, the Arabs gained some clout. But their territory was restricted to the Arabian desert. The area outside the Arabian desert remained in control of Turks, Persians, and other non-Arab Islamic groups. 

The military power of the Islamic groups has been declining since the seventeenth century. The discovery of petroleum in the Middle East has not stopped the decline. In the twentieth century and the twenty-first, Islam, as a civilization, continues to retreat. I believe in the theory that the Islamic aggressiveness and militancy that is often highlighted in Western and Asian media is a consequence of the Muslims withdrawing from the world and retreating into Middle Age tribalism.


Anonymous said...

namaskaram, can you share which theory is true to debunk arayan theory, is it okay if i ask such somethings, unable to do so on fb, for awareness, revive self-esteem which is layered by dust now, Thanks

Anoop Verma said...

You can try this book, The Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, by Shrikant G. Talageri. It has some very good perspectives. He shows that the Indo-Aryan language originated in India.