Islam has, in the recent times, become one of the most fundamental and

fastest growing religions in the entire world. Its history can be traced
way back to the 7th century when Muhammad, the prophet of Islam laid its
cornerstones. After the death of Muhammad, the religion continued
experiencing phenomenal growth expanding into other parts of the world.
Indeed, it is after his death that the new religion gathered varied
impressive victories as a military arm rather than religion in the
conventional sense. The armies of Islam took over the Arabian Peninsula
with ease before taking over its numerous neighbors. Its expansion
efforts were stretched further to non-Arab Egypt, before reaching the
Atlantic shores about four decades later and conquering Spain in 1711
and the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). It continued its
expansion and conquering streak to Indonesia and India, which became
Islamic lands. Underlining its immense victories and expansion efforts
is the fact that the new religion had established an entirely new order
in North Africa after subduing it in its entirety. While its expansion
efforts may have been checked by the French soldiers in the 732 Battle
of Tours, the Islamic religion did not entirely become limited. Indeed,
it went ahead to establish some of the most recognizable empires in the
history of the human race (Bosworth 14). As much as there may be varied
Islamic Empires, the three that stand out as the most fundamental are
the Ottoman Empire, the Safavid Empire and the Mughal Empire. These had
different successes and failures, timelines, modes of governance, and
even reasons for decline.
The Ottoman Empire
Spanning close to 700 years, the Ottoman Empire was arguably the
greatest Islamic empire of all times. Underlining it greatness is the
fact that the empire attained the status of the world’s most powerful
state in the 16th and 17th century. Indeed, while it was established in
1299 ad, it reached its epitome in 1600s, after which it started
gradually declining thanks to pressure from external enemies such as
Asia and Europe, as well as internal disorganization. However, the
Ottoman Empire managed to survive through WWI, only to be disbanded in
1918. From the empire’s core, in Asia Minor, emerged the present day
Turkey. At the epitome, the Ottoman Empire controlled a large number of
countries and regions including Hungary, Syria, Romania, Greece, Egypt,
Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Bulgaria, parts of Arabia, as well as
a large proportion of North Africa’s coastal strip (Spilsbury and
Richard 31). One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Ottoman
Empire (and probably the reason for its greatness) is the fact that
promotion and status were earned by merit, with genealogy, tribe and
birth playing no role. Indeed, the rulers were required to undergo
madrassas (Islamic religious schools), as well as palace schools
hierarchy in which they were trained on how they could take care of the
needs of the government and the limits to their behavior as stipulated
in the Islamic law (Bosworth 30).
The Ottoman Empire reached its peak in the period between 1520 and
1566, under the leadership of Suleyman. His death, however, kicked off
its gradual decline with its expansion being first checked in 1571 at
the Battle of Lepanto, and again in 1683 by the unsuccessful invasion of
Vienna. In addition, the Ottoman Empire faced immense threats from its
traditional foe, the Australian Empire and the Russian Empire (Spilsbury
and Richard 33). The empire also had problems defending itself from
invasion, in which case it started forging alliances with European
countries. Moreover, the empire was starved economically after Europeans
discovered an alternate route through which they could trade with India
without paying ransom to the empire. On the same note, the Ottomans
position in Hejaz and Arabia in the WWI final phase was weakened by the
Arab revolt that was supported by the British. Its end came in 1923
after the secession of Turkey.
The Safavid Empire
While the Safavid Empire was the shortest-lived of the three
recognizable Islamic empires, it was considerably influential especially
thanks to its strict adherence to the Shi’a Islam, which it considered
the official religion. Spanning from 1501 to 1722 when Afghan invaders
overthrew it, the Safavid Empire differed from the Ottoman and the
Mughal Empires by the fact that it was based on religion rather than
military strength (Spilsbury and Richard 15). Indeed, it started off as
a peaceful religious order before developing political and military
traits. At its peak in the 16th and 17th century, the Safavid Empire
covered the entire Iraq, Iran, as well as parts of Georgia and Turkey,
with its greatest opposition emanating from the Ottoman Empire and the
Mughal Empires to the west and the East respectively (Bosworth 37).
However, the Safavid Empire had, for the two decades, managed to keep
the two rivals at bay.
The Safavid Empire can be credited to the incompetent leadership of
Shah Sultan Hossein that spanned from 1694 to 1722. Having inherited the
leadership by birth, Shah was indifferent to the manner in which states
are run. He made ridiculous decrees and made the mistake of appointing
Mohammad Baqir Majlesi as the Head Mulla. Majlesi set out to persecute
non Muslims in Iran including Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians
(Spilsbury and Richard 16). The Shi’a Clergy and Majlesi were largely
unchecked by the Safavid regime, in which case they gained strength
became independent from the ruling government around the 17th and 18th
Century. In addition, The Safavid Empire became increasingly vulnerable
to invasion thanks to military decline (Spilsbury and Richard 19). The
invasion came from Afghan Invaders in 1722, couple with the invasion of
Ottomans from the west, while the Russians seized territories at the
Caspian Sea.
The Mughal Empire
The Mughal Empire was established in 1526 after the invasion of India
and subsequent defeat of Ibrahim Lodhi by Babur in the Battle of
Panipat. Covering an areas of 3.2 million square kilometers, the Mughal
Empire reached its peak between 1556 and 1605 under Akbar the Great’s
leadership (Spilsbury and Richard 43). Its peak expansion, however, was
attained under Aurangzeb Alamgir’s leadership, with his death marking
the start of the empire’s gradual decline (Bosworth 25). However, the
empire distinguished itself for its wealth and prosperity, with India
enjoying immense economic and cultural progress, as well as religious
harmony under the Mughals.
Its decline is attributed to the rulers that came after Aurangzeb, as
they were extremely inept, choosing poetry, music and drinking over
administration of the empire. In addition, the empire was financially
drained by the long Deccan wars during Aurangzeb’s era, not to mention
the inability of the Mughal army to compete with the highly trained and
organized British army. The empire was further weakened by the invasions
from Ahmed Shah Abdali and Nadir Shah or Persia, not to mention the fact
that the Mughal was yet to organize any Navy, in which case it did not
have the capacity to exercise any influence in the Indian Ocean or
compete against the East India Company (Spilsbury and Richard 45).
Works cited
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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