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Five Great Islamic Empires

The author is a fervent observer of Islamic religious practices, wherein he finds resolute contentment for his soul.

This article will take a look at five of the greatest and most powerful Islamic empires in world history.

This article will take a look at five of the greatest and most powerful Islamic empires in world history.

The 5 Greatest and Most Powerful Islamic Empires

5. The Safavid Empire

4. The Mughal Empire

3. The Umayyad Caliphate

2. The Abbāsid Caliphate

1. The Ottoman Empire

This map shows the territory of the Safavid empire throughout its reign over multiple centuries.

This map shows the territory of the Safavid empire throughout its reign over multiple centuries.

5. The Safavid Empire (1501–1736)

  • Capital: Isfahan
  • Population: 20 million
  • Area: 2,850,000 km2

Founded in 1501 by Shāh Ismāil, the Safavid dynasty was one of the most significant ruling dynasties of Iran. They ruled one of the greatest Persian empires since the Muslim conquest of Persia.

The palaces found in Isfahan were renowned across the world for their luxury, due in large part to their shahs' devotion to fine arts and manuscripts.

Shia Islam was their official state religion.

Causes of the Decline of the Safavid Empire

  • In addition to their longstanding enemies, the Uzbeks and Ottomans, Iran also had to contend with two more powerful empires in the 17th century: Russia Muscovy and the Mughals of India.
  • By the 17th century, critical trade routes had also shifted away from Iran, which led to a decline in commerce and trade.
  • Some of the last shahs of the empire began retreating into lavish lifestyles within the palaces.
  • This left them open to invasion, the most devastating of which was when the Afghan army besieged the capital of Isfahan in 1722.
  • The combination of falling revenues and repeated attacks from neighboring empires were too much for the Safavid dynasty to handle, and it was effectively over by the middle of the 18th century.
This map shows the expansion of the Mughal empire in the 17th century.

This map shows the expansion of the Mughal empire in the 17th century.

4. The Mughal Empire (1526–1857)

  • Capital: Delhi
  • Population: 110–150 Million
  • Area: 3.2 million km2

Mughals were the descendants of the house of Timur. When Babur from central Asia invaded India in 1526, he defeated the last Sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodhi, in the Battle of Panipat and established the Mughal Empire.

The empire was extremely prosperous and rich. Under the rule of Mughals, India enjoyed much cultural and economic progress, and the leaders were generally tolerant of the various religions in the region.

The Mughals reached their height of power under the reign of Shah Jahan. He was keenly interested in buildings and architecture, and he even built the Taj Mahal for his beloved wife.

The Mughal Empire was at its largest extent during the reign of Aurangzeb Alamgir. He was a deeply religious person, and it is said that he wrote the whole Quran twice in his own handwriting. He waged wars against the Maratha and conquered the Deccan region. After his death, the empire gradually declined.

Causes of the Decline of the Mughal Empire

  • The later Mughal rulers after Aurangzeb were increasingly inept and more interested in drinking, music, and poetry rather than administration.
  • Invasions by Nadir Shah of Persia and Ahmed Shah Abdali exposed the weakness of the Mughal army. Both armies looted and sacked Delhi.
  • The Mughal army was unable to compete with the highly organized and trained army of the British.
  • It is often said that the long wars in Deccan during Aurangzeb's era had drained the treasury.
  • The Mughals did not have a navy, so they could not exercise their influence in the Indian Ocean against the East India Company.
This map shows the growth of Islamic empires between the 7th and 8th centuries.

This map shows the growth of Islamic empires between the 7th and 8th centuries.

The Great Mosque of Damascus was first built on this site by Umayyad Caliph al-Walīd I.

The Great Mosque of Damascus was first built on this site by Umayyad Caliph al-Walīd I.

3. Umayyad Caliphate (661–750)

  • Capital: Damascus
  • Population: 62 million
  • Area: 15,000,000 km2

After the demise of Hazrat Ali (R.A), the Muslim empire of the Khilafat-e-Rashida (first caliphate) drifted into a power struggle between Hazrat Hassan (R.A) and Ameer Muawiya (R.A). But eventually to save the empire from civil war, Hazrat Hassan (R.A) relinquished the caliphate in favor of Hazrat Ameer Muawiya (R.A.), thereby marking the beginning of the Umayyad Caliphate.

They established the largest Arab Muslim State in history up to that point. In 712, the Berber General Tariq ibn Ziyad captured Spain for the caliphate. They continued to rule Spain for the next 300 years. Their caliphate was overthrown by the Abbasid after their defeat at the Battle of Zab.

Causes of the Decline of the Umayyad Caliphate

  • The Syrian army suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Byzantine emperor Leo III in 717, which turned out to be the beginning of the decline.
  • Fiscal reforms instituted by Umar II eventually catalyzed a financial crisis.
  • Feuds between northern (Qays) and southern (Kalb) Arab tribes also greatly weakened the empire's military power. These fights erupted into large-scale revolts in Syria, Iraq, and eastern Iran between 745-46.
  • Non-Arab Muslims in the region, known as the mawālī, eventually partnered with a religious-political faction known as Hāshimiyyah that denied the legitimacy of the Umayyad rule.
  • In 749, the Hāshimiyyah proclaimed their own caliph, Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Saffāḥ, signaling the end of the Umayyad Caliphate and the start of the Abbāsid Caliphate.
This map shows the maximum extent of the Abbāsid Caliphate c. 850—the territories in dark green were lost early.

This map shows the maximum extent of the Abbāsid Caliphate c. 850—the territories in dark green were lost early.

2. Abbāsid Caliphate (750–1258)

  • Capital: Baghdad
  • Population: 50 million
  • Area: 10 million km2

The Abbāsid were the third of four Islamic caliphates. Sometimes, the Abbāsid and Umayyad caliphates are collectively referred to as the Arab Muslim Empire, but they were two different dynasties.

The period of Abbāsid is termed as the Golden Age of Islam due to advances in science, literature, medicine, and philosophy. The caliphate was finally abolished when Mongols under Halagu Khan captured and sacked Baghdad in 1258.

"It is said that the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates ran black for days with the ink of countless precious books from Baghdad's vast libraries that were flung into the rivers and red from the blood of scholars that were slaughtered at the time of the Mongol invasion."

Causes of the Decline of the Abbāsid Caliphate

  • In addition to the Crusades and the attacks of the Seljuks, the rise of Genghis Khan and the Mongols in the 13th century proved to be an unsurmountable challenge.
  • The last formal caliph, al-Must'asim, assumed that he would get help from other Muslim allies to fight off the Mongols, but that didn't end up being the case.
  • When the Mongols besieged Baghdad in 1258, they massacred thousands, including the caliph and most of the royal family. This would spell the end of the Abbāsid empire.
This map shows the extent of the Ottoman Empire, one of the largest throughout world history.

This map shows the extent of the Ottoman Empire, one of the largest throughout world history.

1. Ottoman Empire (1299–1922)

  • Capital: Istanbul
  • Population: 35 million (1856)
  • Area: 5.2 million km2

The Ottoman Empire can undoubtedly be called the greatest Muslim empire of all time, because it stayed on the face of the globe for nearly 700 years. It was one of the largest and the longest ruling empires in history.

The first Ottomans were Turkish soldiers known as ghaziz. They had come to Anatolia with other Turks to escape the Mongols. In late 1200, a ghazi leader named Osman had great success in fighting the Byzantines. His tribe members became known as the Ottomans.

During the 1300s, the Ottomans took over large parts of Anatolia and went into Europe. They defeated the crusader forces at the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396.

The Ottoman empire then faced a temporary crisis in 1402 when Timur invaded and won in the Battle of Ankara. The empire recovered, however, and Murad II took power, beginning another period of expansion.

In 1444, Murad's army defeated the last crusaders at the Battle of Varna. In 1453, Sultan Mehmed, Murad's successor, captured Constantinople in 1453. It was renamed Istanbul and turned into the capital. Sultan Selim I (1512–1520) dramatically expanded the Empire's eastern and southern frontiers by defeating Shah Ismail of Safavid Persia in the Battle of Caldiran. Selim I established Ottoman rule in Egypt.

Suleymaniye Mosque, the icon of Ottoman architecture.

Suleymaniye Mosque, the icon of Ottoman architecture.

The Legacy of Suleiman the Magnificent

The greatest Ottoman sultan was Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled from 1520–66. His rule was the apex of Ottoman power, and he brought the empire to its height of dominance and prosperity.

He conquered Hungary in 1526 and, three years later, laid siege to the city of Vienna. He conquered the mighty strongholds of Rhodes and Belgrade with the help of big cannons and gunpowder. He annexed most of the Middle East in his conflict with the Safavids and large swathes of North Africa, as far west as Algeria. Under his rule, the Ottoman fleet dominated the seas from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

After his death, a period of slow decline begin. The Battle of Vienna in 1683 marked the end of Ottoman expansion in Europe. From 1683–1827, threats to the Ottoman Empire were presented by the traditional enemy, the Austrian Empire, as well as by a new adversary, the rising Russian Empire. It was a period of stagnation.

From 1828–1908, the Empire faced challenges in defending itself against foreign invasion and occupation. The Ottomans ceased to enter conflicts on their own and began to forge alliances with European countries. The empire ended In 1923 after the Republic of Turkey ceded it.

The skyline of Istanbul, once the de facto capital of the world.

The skyline of Istanbul, once the de facto capital of the world.

Causes of the Decline of the Ottoman Empire

  • Europeans advanced greatly in the sciences and technology during the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution, while the Ottomans remained in a state of stagnation.
  • Europeans had discovered a sea route for trading with India, while previously they had to pass through the empire and pay ransom.
  • The later Ottoman sultans were weak and incompetent. Corruption was common.
  • The Arab revolt led by T.E. Lawrence and King Faisal—with full support of the British—played a crucial role in weakening Ottoman positions in Arabia and Hejaz during final phase of World War I.
  • Even after the Treaty of Severs, it was the treachery of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk that finally brought an end to the caliphate.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you think the Muslim Empire will rise again?

Answer: No, not in the near feature at least.

© 2012 StormsHalted

Comments

Disappointed student on October 23, 2019:

We have recently learned about this in our class and I am disappointed because although you are providing information for students and many other people to do research, I'm concerned because some of your information is incorrect. You see the Ottoman empire only lasted for 600 years and not 700 and if the Ottoman empire started in 1520 then how could they have conquered Constantinople. If you look on another website it will tell you that the Ottoman empire started in 1520 and that the empire lasted for only 600 years. I'm not trying to burst your bubble everyone, but this information for the Ottoman empire is incorrect.

Curious student on April 26, 2018:

where is the causes of decline for the safavid empire

Alip on January 29, 2018:

Oh so amazing!!!

rabeeamaqsood72@gmail.com on November 20, 2017:

can u explain this topic

dynasties in subcontinent which is remarkable to Islamic history

Sarah the Superhero on November 05, 2017:

Summary of the Five Great Islamic Empires:

-The Safavid dynasty. They ruled one of the greatest Persian empires in Muslim history.

-The Mughal Empire. They were a prosperous and powerful empire located in India.

- The Umayyad Caliphate. They were in a power struggle, but found a way to avoid civil war, and began an umayyad dynasty of ruler.

- The Abbasid Caliphate. They were the dynasty on the throne during the Golden Age of Islam.

- The Ottoman Empire. They were a greatly successful empire who were the only dynasty to be in the common era.

Anti-dandruff on September 05, 2017:

Mamluke, Abbasid, Selyuk, Rashudin, Khawarism, Ghaznavids, Delhi Sultanate, Fatamid etc etc etc. Plenty of Muslim empires have existed and each played an important role

In the regions it controlled. Make sure you read about all of them, wonderful history.

Adam on July 14, 2017:

Mughal empire was one of the largest empire in Indian history. It reached its peak under Aurangzeb and after his death most of his governors became independent states. Those smaller states were easily defeated by the British. British absolutely wiped out the maharatas who were previously defeated by the afghans during the 3rd battle of panipat. The sickh empire which was mainly concentrated in northern India(was actually very tiny in comparison to other states in India at that time) only lasted for less then 45 years and was defeated by the British too. British empires main concern was Tipu Sultan and his father Haider Ali. After the British defeated Tipu, India practically had no one to defend it or to put up any meaningful resistance. Most of the princely states accepted British rule and paid tribute to them. Mughal India was one of the richest empires in the world and after its defeat and under British rule India became one of the poorest. Many man made famines occurred and a lot of its resources got into the hands of foreign based company's. Today India is one of the poorest countries in the world and despite having a space program has more people living in poverty then the entire continent of Africa. Approximately 60% live in poverty in India. Most Indians have immigrated to the Middle East in order to find a better life which should indicate how poor Indian people are.

Guest on July 12, 2017:

Mughal empire went into decline for many reasons. At one point Mughal empire was considered the richest empire in the world so you can imagine many other nations and people interested in its wealth. After Aurangzheb death his sons fought over control of his vast empire and each son was being helped by different parties. Many generals and governors become independent states. You then had Afghans and Persians from the north constantly invading, maharatas in central and southern India taken over territory aswell as the British. The British used divide and conquer tactics defeating each state or making alliance with them. British defeated the maharatas, sikhs and Tipu Sultan empire of Mysore just to name a few. Non of those state had unity. In fact during the first war of independence Hindus and Muslims fought together against the British but were let down because the pushtuns and sikhs sided with the British and eventually defeated the nationalist Indians. It's why British Indian army mainly consisted of "loyal" subjects and chose mainly people from north India and where the whole martial race theory came from.

Abhishek Kumar Srivastava on June 10, 2017:

the main reason for declination of mogul was Marathas, Sikhs and Rajputana invasions so it was the rising of Hindu powers after 3 centuries.

Orhan Timur on February 09, 2017:

Actually the Abbasids had the greatest empire. The cultural advancements under their rule was unparalleled in any other Islamic dynasty. The Ottomans didn't really add much to the culture and by the standards of the 16 and 17th centuries they were fairly inferior.

StormsHalted (author) from Pullman, Washington, United States on January 20, 2017:

The sentence originally intended the same, it has been further clarified now.

Thomas Hennigan on January 19, 2017:

The Ottomans DID NOT conquer Vienna in 1529, although they laid siege to it, as they did again in 1683 and also failed and were routed.

Adil on December 30, 2016:

Umar bin al khattab (r.a). was the fastest conqueror of the world he conquered 22,00,000 sq miles in 10 years and he was also bravest or we can say No.1 warrior in the world. And there is missing something Ghaznavid empire and Timurid empire.

minsa on October 17, 2014:

Different...

StormsHalted (author) from Pullman, Washington, United States on December 25, 2013:

Okay fine ....... let me clarify that whilst Indians fought against the ottomans in british armies .......( They were paid soldiers ) ........ their was also a massive movement to support the Khalifa in India ....... known as the Khilafat movement ( 1919-24) and delegations of Indian Muslims actually visited England and requested the President not to give harsh treatment to Turkey.........

StormsHalted (author) from Pullman, Washington, United States on February 25, 2013:

They both Mughal and ottomans declined gradually due to incompetent rulers and lagging behind the Europeans technology ........

pramodgokhale from Pune( India) on February 24, 2013:

Dear Alikhan3

It is interesting to know the history of Islamic empires.No doubt Turkey was the greatest of all with science and technologies.I India mogul empire also was great.

If you can explain why they collapsed? I think they cut off from science and technologies and feudal and dark age. Do you agree?

When we go for Introspection we should forget differences, self audit always benefit how not to go for wrong.

Thank you for the article.

pramod gokhale