the Message Continues ... i2/4
Marginalization of Muslims:
Moments in Islamic History
Professor Nazeer Ahmed
the competition for world’s
resources, the verdict of history is without mercy. In the “winner
of global competition, civilizations with the most efficient
institutions win out. By the end of the seventeenth century, it was apparent
that the tide of history was fl
in favor of Europe and away from the Islamic world. Neither was the failure
exclusively Islamic. With its singular focus on wealth and power, Europe elbowed
out the Muslims in trade and commerce, and as opportunities
moved to dominate not just the world of Islam, but the entire globe. This was a
in which a Euro centric civilization, emerging out of Northern Europe,
over-whelmed the ancient civilizations of Asia, Africa and the Americas. The
Muslims lost the race primarily because their
institutions could not compete with those of Europe. The Joint Stock
Companies that emerged from Europe proved to be far more efficient
in harnessing the energies of men and material, and exploiting historical
opportunities, than the despotic bureaucracies in Asia and Africa. Certainly
there were other reasons as well. These included legitimacy of rule, absence of
an orderly chain of succession, excessive in-fighting,
a fatal weakness in naval technology, loss of trade, social rigidity and
parochial religious zeal. Over-arching it all was a general decay in
spirituality and ethics, which provide the essential binding force for a
its singular focus on wealth and power, Europe elbowed out the Muslims in
trade and commerce, and as opportunities developed, moved
just the world of Islam, but the entire globe.
a historical perspective, the European thrust in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries was not the first
one. Islam and Christianity have jostled each other for turf throughout the last
fourteen hundred years.
distinct strikes and counterstrikes may be identifyed. The first
one led Muslim armies across Egypt and North Africa into Spain and France, and
ended with the battle of Tours (736).
The second one, a combined assault by the Vikings from the North, and the
Muslims from the South, led to the capture of Sicily (831)
and the establishment
of bases in Southern France and Switzerland. The third was a Turkish thrust at
the heart of Europe, which resulted in the conquest of Istanbul (1453),
and ended with the second siege of Vienna (1683).
Conversely, in the first
Christian attack on Muslims, the Latin West hurled itself at the Islamic world,
in a broad front extending from Spain to Syria.
Crusades, which started in 996,
and continued well into the sixteenth century, failed to capture Jerusalem but
succeeded in conquering Spain and Portugal. The second European assault, which
continues to this day, started with the Crusades in the Maghreb. It gathered
momentum when the Portuguese sailed around Africa to the Indian Ocean (1496)
and disrupted the vast
network of trade routes linking its littoral states. The challenge intensified
with the advent of the Joint Stock Companies (1600),
and ended with the colonization of much of the non-European world in the
nineteenth century. The two World Wars (1914-18,
1939-45) weakened the
European powers, and provided a coup de grace for political colonization.
the reigns of economic control remained in the West, and economic domination
in the second half of the twentieth century. What distinguishes the current
phase from previous ones is that it is not a military confrontation. It extends
across a broad ideological, economic, political and cultural front.
It is not a religious confrontation because the Western civilization is
aside religion itself, it seeks to replace religion with its own material
Islam burst upon the global scene in the seventh century, it faced the Christian
(Eastern Roman, Byzantine) Empire in the Mediterranean and the Sassanid Empire
campaigns of Caliph Omar eliminated the Sassanids, the Persians embraced Islam,
and Iran became a part of the Islamic heartland. In the Mediterranean, the Roman
provinces of Syria and Egypt were conquered. Expansion continued during the
Umayyad period. An attack on the Byzantine capital of Constantinople (Istanbul)
by Emir Muawiya (d.
unsuccessful. Success was more forthcoming in the Western campaigns. By 712,
all of North Africa and Spain were subdued. Muslim armies crossed the Pyrenees
consolidated their hold on Southern France (715-730),
and pushed North towards the heart of Frankish territories. They were stopped at
the battle of Tours (736)
wave of Muslim expansion succeeded in elbowing out the Eastern Roman (Byzantine)
from the Eastern Mediterranean, and almost succeeded in overrunning the Latin
second wave of expansion came in the ninth century. After the death of
the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire, a political vacuum developed in
Northern Europe, which invited raids from the Vikings (Swedes). The Nordic
countries were not yet Christian, and the Viking raids took a heavy toll in
Germany, France and Scotland. At about the same time, the Umayyads in Spain and
the Aghlabids in Tunisia launched a series of raids on Southern Europe. The
Spanish Umayyads reoccupied
and made a thrust towards the mountain passes in Switzerland. The Aghlabids
captured Sicily, and advancing into the Italian peninsula,
occupied Pisa, and raided Rome (846).
Muslim powers might have inflicted
greater damage were they not divided among them selves.
Umayyads of Spain would not coordinate their efforts with the Aghlabids of North
Africa who owed their allegiance to the Abbasids in Baghdad. In the tenth
century, the Aghlabids were displaced by the powerful Ismailis (969-1172),
who had a different vision of Islam from the Sunnis, and engaged in a
continuous struggle with the Umayyads of Spain for control of North
Africa. These internal struggles dashed any hope of a coordinated, sustained
Latin thrust at the world of Islam came during the Crusades.
Crusades were proposed by Pope Gregory V as early as 996, but the Europe of Pope
Gregory was too weak and the Islamic world much too strong, to mount a
major attack across the Mediterranean Sea. The initial focus of the Crusades was
therefore limited to Southern Italy and Spain. Pisa and Sardinia were recaptured
in1052, while the city of Toledo in Spain fell in 1085. However, it was not
until the eleventh century that the full fury of the Crusades was let loose. In
1195, Pope Urban preached a Crusade to wrest control of Jerusalem from the
imagination of Europe was fi
red up with visions of
the Holy Cross and the Church of Holy Sepulcher. This time, the political
climate in the Eastern Mediterranean was
more conducive to an invasion. The
Ismailis who controlled Egypt and Syria were a spent force. The global struggle
between the Abbasids in Baghdad, and the Ismailis in Cairo, had sapped their
energies. The line of control between the Seljuk Turks who championed the
Abbasids, and the Ismailis ran through the hills of Palestine. The First Crusade
succeeded in capturing Jerusalem and establishing a Latin presence in Palestine
and Syria (1096).
Latin kingdom of Jerusalem was short lived. A counter punch by the Seljuks (1130-70)
the Crusaders from Northern Iraq. Salahuddin (d.
Syria and Egypt under his command, brought an end to Ismaili rule in Cairo (1172),
and won back Jerusalem (1186)
the Crusaders. The first
thrust of the Latin West at the world of Islam was a military failure, but it
did bring Europe face to face with the more advanced civilization of Islam.
the Crusaders in the Eastern Mediterranean changed their focus from God to gold.
With the Fourth Crusade, and the sack of Constantinople (1204),
the Latin West accepted the premise that gold was more important than the Cross,
and moved inexorably away from the age of imagination towards the age of
mercantile acquisition. Subsequent forays by the Latins to occupy Egypt (1218)
in failure, and their attempts to form a coalition with the marauding Mongols (1260)
came when Sultan Baybars of Egypt defeated a combined army of the Crusaders,
Armenians and Mongols at the battle of Ayn Jalut (1262),
near the city of Nazareth.
it was in the Maghreb that the real drama of the Crusades was played. It was the
Western Crusades, fought in Spain and North Africa, which altered the flow
of global history, and ultimately resulted in the ascendancy of Europe over the
rest of the world. Frustrated
in the East, the Crusaders turned their
fury at the Maghreb. After the battle of Hittin (1186),
and the failure
of the Third Crusade (1193),
no serious attempt was made by the Latins to take Jerusalem. It was a different
story in the West. The Second Crusade (1145)
succeeded in capturing
in Arabic) in
Portugal, while Sicily was wrested from the Arabs (1050).
the Murabitun from West Africa (1086),
and of the Almohads from North Africa (1125)
stemmed the Crusader
tide for a while.
But the disastrous defeat of Las Novas de Tolosa (1212)
the fate of the Almohad Empire, and the Christian Conquistadors thrust
for-ward.Spain, except for a tiny foothold in Granada, fell to a combined
onslaught from Castile, Portugal and Aragon (1232-1248).
the next hundred years, a military equilibrium prevailed in the Western
Mediterranean. Hostilities resumed in the fifteenth
century as pressure from the Turks in the Eastern Mediterranean increased. In 1415,
Portugal captured the important trading post of Ceuta astride the Straits of
Gibraltar. This was the first
hold of the Christian Iberians in North Africa; Tangier fell in 1425. Using
these two cities as their bases, the Portuguese expanded their operations on the
Atlantic coast of Morocco. Prince Henry, Portuguese governor of Ceuta and
Tangier, encouraged these excursions.Since the Maghreb was in political disarray
following the collapse of the Almohads, it was in no position to mount a
vigorous counter-offensive. In 1434,
sailor Diaz crossed Cape Bajador located at the Western tip of Africa. This was
an important benchmark in that it demonstrated Portuguese capability to sail
against the wind. In 1441,
Portuguese slave raid was made on the coast of Mauritania, in which a “Moorish”
captured and enslaved. Thus began the Atlantic slave trade, which in the coming
centuries was to trans-form Africa, Europe and America alike. By the year 1500,
there were 30,000 Muslim slaves in Lisbon.
Portuguese continued their relent-less advance down the coast of West Africa.
Gaining experience as they went, Portuguese sailors soon discovered that by
sailing further West to the Azores islands, and then turning south, they could
avoid the treacherous currents off the coast of Africa. By 1490,
their ships were sailing far into the Southern reaches of the great continent of
Africa. The farther South they went, the larger was the radius of the arc
extending from the Azores to the tip of South Africa. In 1492,
during one of those
in an arc that extended far from the shores of Africa, Columbus discovered the
West Indies. Granada fell the same year to a Spanish onslaught. In 1494,
at the behest of the Pope, Portugal and Spain divided the world into their
respective spheres of influence.
Vasco de Gama, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, up the coast of
East Africa, and with the help of a Muslim navigator, Ahmed Ibn
Majid, visited the Malabar Coast in India.
the naval thrusts that had started a century earlier to outflank
the Muslim Maghreb resulted in the discovery of America and the establishment of
naval trade routes to the prosperous Indian Ocean region.
these discoveries in themselves were...