Islamic Middle Period
Unlike the negative implications imposed on majority of Europe due to the fall of the Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, the Islamic world was at its echelon of significance. From the early Middle Ages towards 1500 CE, the Islamic society evolved into a considerable empire that wielded on a local and international basis. Foremost, the golden age of the respective society was identified by the dissemination of the Islamic creed in the Middle-Eastern and North African countries. Even though Islam became evident in the 7th century, its spread towards other parts of the world such as Europe and Africa expanded after the demise of Prophet Muhammad. Aside from this, the prosperity of the Islamic society in the Middle Ages was illustrated by the long-term political and cultural influences posited at the time. Politically, the expansive Islamic community was defined by the ascent of powerful dynasties that succeeded in the diversification of the Islamic population. From a religious standpoint, the rise of the caliphates ensured the evolution of Islam into a cultural phenomenon. Arguably, the history of the Muslim world corresponded with an era of religious, cultural, and political consolidation during the Middle Ages.
The Middle period for the Muslim world was characterized by the influences of the Abbasid Caliphate. Nonetheless, the religious and political influence of the respective caliphate arose from the effects of the Early Muslim Caliphate. At the time, the Islamic community was adapting to the demise of Prophet Muhammad, economic growth, and consolidation (Kennedy 23). With increasing expansion at hand, the Muslim Empire inculcated Egypt, Syria, Cyprus, and Persia. This resulted in the diversification of the population, which included Persians, Greeks, Christians, Jews, and Egyptians. In addition, individuals who expressed willingness to accept Islam, respectively converts, were not specifically sought. Despite this, the Islamic society welcomed such persons since a special levy identified as the jizya was required for non-Muslims to reimburse in order to ensure the growth of the youthful empire (Kennedy 23). Nonetheless, the adaptation of the custom and the reimbursement for loyalty contributed considerably to the empire’s success.
However, one of the major points of consolidation for the Muslim world in the Middle period was the inculcation of the Quran. Even though the religion of Islam was popular, a large number of Muslims and non-Muslims were not particularly cohesive. The Quran rectified this factor. Due to the efforts implemented by the first Caliphate, the Quran grew into a factor of consolidation for the Muslim world. In fact, the religious text succeeded in the eventual unison of Islam despite the division between the Shi’ites and the Sunni (Raudvere 77). Following this schism, the first Caliphate was affected by the civil war. This led to the Umayyad Dynasty. The Umayyad Dynasty was more successful in establishing an expansive political and religious frontier in different parts of the world. Specifically, the Umayyad Dynasty was capable of conquering international terrains such as countries based in North Africa and Central Asia, and states such as Spain. Because of this, the Umayyad Dynasty caused a significant diversification of Islamic culture.
With the mentioned regions become part of the Muslim world under the helm of the Umayyad Dynasty, new customs of practice became f the respective diversification. Nevertheless, the adoption of novel people and new customs elicited the ascent of new ideals among the diversified Islamic population. Accordingly, Islam converts that were non-Arabs, largely Persian, confronted the noble status accorded to Arab Muslims during the civil war. Despite this, the Arabs under the rule of the Umayyad Dynasty succeeded in advancing the unification of the Islamic empire into a culturally integrated whole. This was evidenced by the relocation of the government’s capital to the city of Damascus in Syria and the installation of the Arabic language as the empire’s official language (Hodgson 80). Regardless of these considerable strides in political and religious consolidation, other Muslim groups that were largely comprised of non-Arab focused on confronting the Umayyads due to the discontent they experienced as an outcome of discrimination. Aside from this, discontent within the Muslim society arose from the elite’s increasing wealth, which established cross-cultural segregation.
With the changes in social class due to discontent, the Umayyad Dynasty eventually failed leading to the establishment of the Abbasid Dynasty. Interestingly, the Abbasid Caliphate exhibited disparate characteristics from the predecessors. In fact, in comparison to the Umayyads, the Abbasid Dynasty differed considerably. Firstly, the respective Caliphate engaged in different political strategies aimed at curbing any form of dissidence that would arise from the masses. For instance, the Abbasid Dynasty succeeded in relocating the empire’s capital to Baghdad from Damascus (Raudvere 123). The respective decision was politically consolidating since it assisted in the mollification of Muslim dissidents that were non-Arab. Additionally, the Abbasid Caliphate inculcated an institution based on bureaucratic ideals, which further quelled dissidence from non-Arab Muslims. For the Caliphate, the aim was to ensure satisfaction among members of the Muslim society. As such, the bureaucratic framework curtailed the Arab elite’s influence thereby drafting in non-Arab Muslims.
Interestingly, much of the domineering influence exhibited by the Abbasids comprised the Persians. Regardless of the modifications that the respective Caliphate introduced to the Islamic world as a whole, it was impossible for the Abbasids to retain absolute control. Accordingly, certain sections of Spain became part of the Christian empire while remainders of the Umayyad Dynasty possessed influence in parts of Spain. In northwest Africa, the Aghalabids living within the Maghreb were capable of gaining independence (Udovitch 66). Nonetheless, the Abbasid Caliphate assumed a significant role in cultural consolidation and advancement. For instance, the respective dynasty succeeded in ensuring the development of the Dar al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom) (Fierro 67). Accordingly, the House of Wisdom succeeded in ensuring the continuity of ancient texts by allowing translation of the respective material into Arabic. As such, subjects such as astronomy, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, and geography underwent advancement within the Islamic culture.
Cultural consolidation in the Islamic world was further characterized by the significance attached to facets such as architecture, art, and literature during the reign of the Abbasid Dynasty. The cultural significance of the mentioned forms was also identified by the ascent of calligraphic art. Due to the limitations imposed by the Islamic faith on the representation of human types, the act influenced the rise of calligraphy. As such, epics such as One Thousand and One Nights, which was based on the exploits of Harun al-Rashid,became markers of a culturally influenced society (Fierro 43). Since the success of the Abbasid empire arose from trade, agriculture, commerce, and industry, the massive wealth and assets that the caliphs possessed allowed them to evolve into patrons of culture and art. Because of their immense contributions to the Islamic world in terms of culture, the Abbasids became an imperative part of the civilization that characterized the Muslim world in the Middle period.
The Arabic language was also evidence of the political, religious, and cultural consolidation that characterized the Islamic society in the Middle period. As asserted, the dissemination of the Quran during the reign of the early Caliphate succeeded in uniting the Muslim world. In other situations, the Arabic language was responsible for ensuring the continuity of ancient scholarly and literary texts. On a political basis, the Arabic language was capable of creating relationships between bureaucrats based in disparate states as well as the facilitation of a common bureaucratic culture (Lapidus 112). The establishment of the respective language was imperative in acknowledging the shortcomings exhibited by the diversified population. Despite this, the diverse population, which arose as an outcome of the conversion of residents in Syria and Egypt, facilitated cultural development in the Muslim world. For the latter, the rise of the Fatimid Empire led to the accomplishment of cultural feats in the midst of a conflict between the Shi’te and the Sunni Muslims.
In conclusion, the Middle period was a period of consolidation for the Muslim world. Since the reign of the early Muslim Caliphate, the Islamic community underwent a series of changes in respect to religious, political, and cultural consolidation. Foremost, the formalization of the Arabic language assumed an important role in disseminating the Islamic culture by uniting both non-Arabs and Muslims. Additionally, the relocation of the government’s center to Damascus and eventually to Baghdad succeeded in increasing the Muslim world’s political frontiers. Covering such a wide area enabled further conversion of non-Muslims. Even though the dynasties eventually fell under the pressure, they succeeded in applying cultural, political, and religious development within the Muslim world.
Fierro, Ma I. The Western Islamic World, Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.
Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977. Print.
Kennedy, Hugh. The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the Sixth to the Eleventh Century. London: Longman, 2011. Print.
Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Print.
Raudvere, Catharina. Islam: An Introduction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015. Print.
Udovitch, Abraham L. The Islamic Middle East, 700-1900: Studies in Economic and Social History. Princeton: Darwin Press, 2013. Print.