Islam has been one of the greatest and fastest growing religions in the

recent times. Its origin can be traced back to the 7th century, a time
when the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, founded the religion. At the time
of his death in 632, the new religion that he had pioneered had made a
number of conquests both in the battlefield and in the religious
spheres. In the battlefield, the armies of Islam easily and quickly
conquered the Arab peninsula and moved on to take over the homelands of
their different neighbors. Moving from Arabia in 639, the armies of
Islam entered the non-Arab Egypt, before proceeding to the shores of
Atlantic 43 years later and invading Spain in 711 (Bosworth 6). Within
just 70 years, the armies of Islam had conquered the entire of North
Africa and put in place a new order. Scholars have noted that the
conquest, expanding from the Nile to the Atlantic, was significantly
more complete than any other conquest that had been achieved by the
previous invaders, with the modifications that it instituted proving
even more permanent (Bosworth 7). These explorations and invasions were
essentially the expansion of the Islamic empire. While numerous Islamic
empires have existed since the death of the Prophet of Islam all the way
to the 20th century, three empires have stuck out as the greatest
Islamic empires. These include the Ottoman Empire, the Safavid Empire
and the Mughal Empire of India, all of which incorporated different
governing structures, religious alignments and military statures.
Ottoman Empire (1299 to 1922)
The Ottoman Empire can, with no doubt, be regarded as the greatest
Muslim empire of all time especially considering that its existence
spanned close to seven centuries. Covering an approximated area of
5,200,200 km2 and a population of about 35, 350, 000 people as at 1856,
the empire was considered the largest. Testament to its strength is the
fact that the empire became the world’s most powerful state in the
16th and 17th centuries. The empire started after the fall of Baghdad to
the Mongols, after which the Seljuks declared an autonomous Sultanate in
east central Asia Minor. The first Ottomans were essentially Turkish
soldiers called ghaziz, who, with other Turks, had come to Anatolia so
as to escape from the Mongols. In late 1200, a ghai leader known as
Osman was largely successful in combating the Byzantines, with his tribe
members gaining the name Ottoman. At its peak, the Ottoman Empire took
up Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria,
Palestine, Lebanon, parts of Arabia, Jordan, Syria and a large part of
North Africa’s coastal strip (Spilsbury and Richard 32). Initially,
Ottoman Sultans’ rule was insecure, with the rulers forming groups of
fanatical soldiers made up of Christian converts and slaves so as to
consolidate the Empire. While the Ottoman Empire drew was largely
influenced by the customs and faiths of its people, Islam was the source
of the most significant influence. The ruling elite had to move up the
religious schools’ and palace schools’ hierarchy, where they
underwent training on minding the government’s needs and the
restrictions pertaining to the Islamic law (Spilsbury and Richard 33).
Aristocracy, birth, tribe or genealogy, were almost irrelevant in the
success of the system as promotion and status were awarded on merit,
except for the Sultan.
Of all the leaderships of the Ottoman Empire, the greatest Ottoman
Sultan is considered to be Suleyman whose rule spanned from 1520 to 1566
(Spilsbury and Richard 33). His leadership marked the epitome of
prosperity and power for the Ottoman Empire, conquering places such as
Vienna, Belgrade and Rhodes, North Africa and a large part of the Middle
East using big cannons and gun powder. It was also during his rule that
that the Ottoman fleet became a dominant fixture in the seas from the
Persian Gulf and Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
The decline of the Ottoman Empire is attributed to a number of factors.
First, there was great advance in science and technology among Europeans
during the industrial revolution and the renaissance, while the Ottomans
were stagnant in this aspect. Second, Europeans discovered a sea route
that they could use to trade with India, unlike previously when they had
to pay ransom to the empire so as to pass (Spilsbury and Richard 34).
This, coupled with gross incompetence and corruption among its leaders,
weakened the Ottomans economically. In addition, the Ottoman position in
Hejaz and Arabia was weakened by the Arab revolt supported by the
British in the last phase of WWI.
The Safavid Empire (1501 to 1736)
The Safavid Empire started as a political dynasty, with its origin being
a religious sect and only acquiring political and military traits after
1501. It was the shortest-lived empire, with its final collapse coming
in the 1722 in the hands of Afghan invaders (Savory 207). Its area of
coverage was largely Iran, as well as some parts of Georgia and Turkey,
with its remnants becoming the present-day republic of Iran.
Nevertheless, the growth of the empire was attributed to its interaction
of the local warlords and political marriages (Savory 213). The
brotherhood, in the 15th century, became increasingly militarily
aggressive and started Islamic jihad against the present-day Georgia and
Turkey. After Shi’a Islam was outlawed by the Ottomans, the Safavids
Shahs declared their independence, with the empire becoming stronger
thanks to the Shi’a soldiers that fled the Ottoman army fearing
persecution (Spilsbury and Richard 37).
The decline of the Safavid Empire is credited to the rise of Shah Sultan
Hossein, who was completely indifferent in the affairs of ruling the
empire. His appointment of Baqir Majlesi was particularly wrong as
Majlesi devoted himself to propagating Shi’ism and eradicating Sunni
Islam and Sufism (Savory 215). This resulted in increased conflicts
between the Shites and the Sunnis, with the Empire being further
weakened by the increasing western influence on Iran, which put it on a
modernization path and resulted in a religious crisis.
The Mughal Empire (1526 to 1857)
The Mughal Empire was founded in 1926 by Babur, reaching its peak under
the leadership of Akbar the Great (1556-1605) and achieving the greatest
expansion of its territory by 1700. It covered an area of 3.2 million
square kilometers (Bosworth 25). Babur had invaded India and defeated
Ibrahim Lodhi, the last sultan of Sultanate of Delhi in the battle of
Panipat, thereby establishing the Mughal Empire. It decline started
after the death of Aurangzeb Alamgir, a deeply religious ruler who had
successfully fought against the Maranatha and gone ahead to conquer the
Deccan region (Spilsbury and Richard 45). The decline resulted from
varied factors including the ineptness of the subsequent Mughal Rulers,
invasions by the Ahmed Shah Abdali and Nadir Shah of Persia who not only
sacked and looted Delhi but also exposed Mughal army’s weakness. In
addition, the Mughal army was ill equipped to compete against the highly
trained and organized British army, especially with the drained treasury
from the long Deccan wars during Aurangzeb`s era (Spilsbury and Richard
46).
Works cited
Savory, Roger. Iran Under the Safavids. Cambridge University Press.
2007. Print
Bosworth, Clifford E. The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and
Genealogical Manual. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 2004. Print.
Spilsbury, Louise, and Richard Spilsbury. The Islamic Empires. Chicago:
Raintree, 2008. Print.
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