Did the Mongols Create a More Diverse Islamic Identity?

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Hist 291

Spring Term

Did the Mongols Create a More Diverse Islamic Identity?

The historical relationship between the Mongols and Islam can be described as ambivalent. Historians have traditionally viewed the Mongolian invasion of the Khwarazmia and the Abbasid Caliphate as destructive to the Islamic identity, because Islamic world-empires suffered a loss of political power, economic wealth, and human life; and the destruction of Baghdad resulted in the loss of Islamic multicultural and social cohesiveness. Recent studies, however, indicate that the Mongols facilitation of trade led to the spread Islam, which made it the global religion seen in present day. While the Mongols destroyed Islamic world-empires, they fostered a growing Muslim community beyond Islam’s Persian and Arabic origins. Therefore, the Mongols positively impacted Islam by creating a more geographically and ethnically diverse Islamic identity, which outweighs the negative impact caused by initial devastation.

The destruction of Khwarazmia and the Abbasid Caliphate caused historians to view the Mongols as a negative impact on Islam because they essentially crippled Islamic world-empires. Before the Khwarazmian Empire was conquered, it was the main Islamic power bordering Mongolian controlled lands. It was established in 1205 within present-day Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. The Empire was founded from conquered Abbasid and Seljuq territories, and ruled by Ala ad-Din Tekish. He was succeeded by his son Ala ad-Din Muhammad, the Khwarazmian ruler during the Mongolian invasion.

The invasion destroyed any vestige of political power and economic wealth in the area, and caused a severe population decrease. Bukhara was the first city that was completely annihilated. Around twenty thousand Khwarazmian soldiers were killed during the initial battle. After Bukhara surrendered the Mongols entered the city pillaging and killing its citizens. Surviving soldiers were executed, while artisans and skilled laborers were moved to Mongolia. Young men were conscripted into the Mongolian army and the rest of the population was either killed or enslaved. During the invasion the city was burned to the ground and left uninhabitable. Samarkand, the Khwarazmian capital, was the second major city to be destroyed. One hundred thousand men were killed defending the city. Shah Muhammad unsuccessfully tried reinforcing Samarkland twice, increasing the death toll by another ten thousand. Following Samarkand’s surrender, about two thousand injured and surrendering soldiers were killed within the city walls. Because Samarkland proved harder to siege than Bukhara, Genghis Khan did not allow its inhabitants the possibility of enslavement. After the siege, the entire population was gathered outside where they were decapitated in celebration Genghis’s victory. Urgench was the final major city to fall under Khwarazmian rule. Ata-Malik Juvayni, a Persian scholar who wrote about the Mongolian conquests in the mid-thirteenth century, wrote that fifty thousand Mongols were charged with killing at least twenty-four Khwarazmians each. Historian Bertold Spuler writes that this figure was most likely an exaggeration. The inhabitants of Ugrench were not entirely wiped out. Similarly to the aftermath of Bukhara, skilled laborers were sent to Mongolia and women and children were enslaved. Only soldiers and men were killed. He also writes that the population of Ugrench would most likely not have neared the one million two thousand that Juvayni estimated. Spuler, however, affirms Juvayni’s claim that it was one of the largest massacres carried out by the Mongols.

The conquest of Khwarazmia left the empire completely destroyed. Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, Ala ad-Din Muhammad’s son, tried to raise an army to contend with the Mongols but failed to become a major threat. He was later murdered, either by rival Islamic factions or bandits. With the ruling family dispersed the Mongols...
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