Abbasid Decline and the Spread of Islamic Civilization to South and Southeast Asia

The decline of the Abbasids’ power over the Muslim Empire was ultimately caused by the lack of a succession system and the abortive attempt to restore Shi’a to the Abbasid rule. Ruler Caliph al-Mahdi was the true initiator of the Abbasid’s demise, both in his ruling and for future rulers. The affects of the downfall were definitely drastic for the Caliph dynasty to the point where abatement of imperial treasuries was evident, peasant revolts were issued, position of women eroded, and invasions occurred due to a weak state. However, due to the massive influences of culture and science, the Muslim civilization was able to spread throughout the Afro-Asian worlds through civil means. Essentially, the fall of the Abbasid Empire from an incongruent government system was later compensated by the full use of intellect and refined culture in order for the general spread of Islamic civilization to occur.

 In retrospect, Caliph al-Mahdi’s exploitation of court luxuries and lack of attention to a succession system weakened the empire immensely for its future. His son, Harun al-Rashid, was just as obdurate when it came to instituting succession. Al-Rashid’s deaths then lead to a war pertaining to the lack of succession. Another son, al-Ma’mun, built retainer armies that caused societal turmoil within the empire consequently leading to an imperial breakdown. The perpetual violence caused a huge destruction on the empire’s treasury; peasants were strained with heavy taxes, the agriculture was abandoned, and havoc was inflicted onto the state. Revolts from peasants were imminent and nevertheless represented a crumbling society. Abbasid’s patriarchy became severe to the women for they were seen as possessors of incurable lust. Thus, noble women and concubines were kept private while peasant woman were socially and economically active. The secluded women were married at puberty and lived a life of constant childbearing. Evidently, the Abbasid’s implementation of war from a lack of succession in turn, created a revolting and harshly patriarchal society in the pit of chaos and turmoil.

During the mid-10th century, the Buyids of Persia showed to be dominant over the once powerful Abbasids. The Buyids conquered and took control of Baghdad, leaving the Caliph Abbasids in the control Sultans. The act of ruling this state showed that the Abbasids were truly at their lowest point in history; not to mention, that they were also controlled by other numerous conquerors. After the defeat of the Buyids by the Seljuk Turks in 1055, the Turks then ruled the Abbasids for more than two centuries. This gave them some time to restore the caliphate with their military power.

Although the fall of the Abbasid Empire was represented as one of the Islamic Empire’s most corruptive downfall, the new influences of refined cultures and scientific advancements showed anew for both the empire itself and even its spread. There was an abundance of creative Muslim thinkers and craftsman from Spain to Persia whom have showed artistic works of art such as, architecture, rugs, and ceramics. The rapid urban growth allowed for Merchant employment where Islam would trade these products all over the world. The Islamic products were symbols of uniqueness, ingenuity, and cultural spread. In addition, over time the written form of Arabic was replaced with Persian in courts. In contrast to Arabic being a language of mostly law, Persian was a language of literary intellect.  On the other hand, the influence of math from ancient Greeks essentially made the Muslims one of the most advanced mathematicians compared to others. They were also highly educated in chemistry; it was Muslim Al-Razi that classified material substances of nature to be three things: animal, vegetable, or mineral, during the time. For astronomy, the Muslims were able to develop tools such as the astrolabe as a means of scientific discovery of celestial bodies. They also initiated rigid medical education and developed new hospitals. China was also a huge influence to the Muslim people, for the Chinese introduced techniques in papermaking, silk weaving, and ceramic firing.

 After the Muslim invasion on the complex Indian civilization, a mix of cultures and religion arose. Though religiously, the two civilizations did not meet eye to eye, over time they started to peacefully embrace and exchange when Muslim rulers governed Hindu subjects. The Indians were very welcoming of the new rulers because they supported in lighter taxations and were open to the Hindu religion. Though, the Muslims were the ones to step on Indian grounds, the Indian culture was the dominant culture to influence. Both civilizations were able to exchange scientific, mathematical, and artistic enlightenment. After some time, the Arabs were able to settle along Southeast Asia and conform to local customs. 

 al-Mahdi - Third Addasid caliph. Ruled from 775-785. Tried but failed to make amends with his Shi'a moderates to his dynasty and to resolve the succession problem. This caused the Shi'a assassination attempts and revolts to plague the empire until it's end. 

 Harun al-Rashid - The most famous of all the Abbasid caliphs who ruled from 786 − 809. He was known for his luxurious and costly living recounted in The Thousand and One Nights. Although he resisted outside influence to his rule later in his life, because he relied on other people to help him rule, after his death the Empire was torn in civil war over fight for his power. 

Buyids - Persian invaders of the 10th century who captured the capital city of Baghdad and turned the caliphs into little more than puppets who what they now called themselves: Sultans (Which came to be a title for later Muslim rulers) They were strong metal workers and were part of the shia. 

 Seljuk Turks - Nomadic invaders in the 11th century who ruled in the Abbasid's name. They were from central Asia and were staunch Sunni's. They purge Shi'a officials who had risen to power under the Buyids. They also defeated the Byzantines who tried to take advantage of the Islamic divisions. This laid down the foundations of what was later to be called the Ottoman empire. 

Map of seljuk Turk Expanision 

Crusades - Invasions of western Christians into Muslim lands, especially Palestine in order to get back the Holy Land from the Muslims. They captured Jerusalem and established Christian kingdoms that lasted up until 1291. There were four crusades. They varied in size and success.   

Map of the Crusades doe

Map of the spread of the crusades 

We did not make this video 

Saladin - 12th century Muslim ruler who reconquered most of the crusader kingdoms. After his death, Christians thought they could get back some of their territory

Ibn Khaldun - Although born after the fall of the Abbasids, he was very much a product of Abbasid civilization. He became a historian and even served asa political advisor at several of the courts of Muslim rulers in north Africa. Author of the book The Muqaddimah and sought to uncover persisting patterns in Muslim dynastic history. 

Rubaiyat - Epic poem of Omar Khayyam. It was made to help find the meaning of life and a path to union with all holy and divine

 Shah-Nama - Another epic poem written by Firdawsi in the late 10th and 11th centuries and recounds the history of Persia to the era of Islamic conquests. Filled with the account of 1000 kings.

Picture of the real poem 

Sa'di - Great poet of the Abbasid Empire. He is now seen as one of the masters of literary tradition.

al-Razi - Classified all matter as animal, vegetable, and mineral. Famous philosopher of islam. Today he would be classified as a renaissance man for his vast knowledge in various fields. 

al-Biruni - 11th century scientist who calculated the specific weight of major minerals. This helped people classify minerals under weight instead of looks.

Ulama - Islamic religious scholars who pressed for a more conservative and restrictive theology. They were opposed to non-Islamic thinking. They professed that the Qur'an was the final, perfect and complete revelations of the all-knowing Divinity.  


Sufis - Islamic mystics who spread the religion into many Afro-Asian regions. They sought a personal union with Allah. Their beliefs were combinations of Sunni and Shi'a. Many Sufis went out of their way to spread the "Joy of Allah" to the world.   

Mongols - Central Asian nomadic people who captured Baghdad in 1258. They killed the last Abbasid Caliph. They were controlled by their great war commander Chinggis Khan. He died before the conquest was finished but his son Hulegu continued it. They then continued to Egypt and conquered the Manluks in Egypt. 

Map of the mongol spread 

Al-Ghazali's were also called "Creative Commons"  

al-Ghazali - Brilliant Islamic theologians who attempted to fused Greek and Qur'anic traditions. This went against the Ulama and was often rejected by the Islamic scholars. 

Muhamma ibn Qasim -  Arab General who conquered who conquered Sind and made it part of the Umayyad Empire.He was only 17 when his conquest started and led more that 10,000 horse and camel mounted soldiers. 

Arabic numerals - These were Indian numerical notation brought by the Arabs to the West. This is still used today. 

 Harsha - 7th century north Indian ruler who built a large state that declined after his death in 646. 

Muhammad of Ghur - Led a series of expeditions that began nearly two centuries of Muslim raiding that brought the Indus valley and much of north central India under his control.

Qutb-ud-din-Aibak - After Muhammad of Ghur's death, he took control and established a kingdom in India with the capital at Delhi.  

Above: Muhammad of Ghur's Tomb

Right:  Qutb-ud-din-Aibak's Tomb

Sati - A hindu for burning widows with their deceased husbands during the cremation. This practice has been outlawed in India since 1829. The act was revived under muslim rule but is now seen as unethical under islamic ideas. 

 Bhaktic Cults - Hindu religious groups who stressed the importnace of strong emotional bonds between devotees and the gods or goddesses. These groups were open to all such as women and untouchables. They worshiped gods such as Shiva, Vishnu and Kali. 

Mira Bai - Low caste woman poet and songwriter in bhaktic cults who also belonged in the Bhaktic Cults.  

 Kabir - 15th century Muslim mysitc and weaver who played down the differences between Hinduism and Islam. He proclaimed that all religions could provide a path to spiritual fulfillment. Although his messages were strong, his songs were in religious languages and were not always accessible to common people. 

Shrivijaya - Trading empire based on the Malacca Strait was the way to open for the widespread introduction of Islam. Muslim, Indian, and anyone other kind of trader were invited to trade within the chain. The rulers of the chain were devout buddhists. 

Malacca - Powerful trading city whose smaller trading empire had replaced the fallen Shrivijaya. From here, Islam spread along the coast of Malaya to east Sumatra.  

Trading Routes in Shrivijaya 

                                     Present Day Malacca 

Demark - Most powerful of the trading states on the north Java coast. From here, Islam spread to other Janaese ports. After a struggle with Hindu and Buddhism, the whole island eventually converted.  

Lateen sails - Large triangular sails that are attached to the masts by long booms or yard arms which extend diagonally high acress both the fore and aft portions of the ship.  

Picture of a lateen sale

Eunuchs - A castrated man in charge of a harem or high officer of a court of emperor.


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