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Brief overview of Islamic history.

Mid-East History during the Islamic Period:
Chronology and Commentary

by Brian A. Miller

My primary source was Bacharach's A Near East Studies Handbook, published by University of Washington Press, Seattle. It was published in 1976. I added the dates after that. His chronology is much more detailed and therefore less useful for general study, but his book is a great reference, with maps from various periods, charts, calendar conversions, genealogies, etc. -B.M.

1. Chronology.

570Muhammad born in Mecca;
 Abbysinia, a Byzantine ally invades southern Arabia
6th-7th Century Byzantine Empire at war with Sassanian Persian Empire
610Muhammad's revelations begin.
622 Migration of Muslims to Medina.
632 Muhammad dies; Abu Bakr becomes first Caliph.
634-644Umar reigns as 2nd Caliph
636Muslim armies defeat Byzantine and Persian armies.
644-656Uthman is Caliph. Qur'an is compiled and standardized
656Uthman murdered; Ali becomes Caliph
661Ali is assassinated; Mu'awiya rules from Syria and founds Umayyad Dynasty (661-750).
711 Muslims invade Spain.
732Charles Martel defeats Muslims in France.
747Abbasid revolt begins.
750Umayyads fall to Abbasid forces, remnant of family flees to Spain.
755-1031Umayyads rule Spain.
762Baghdad founded as Abbasid capital.
786-809Reign of Harun al-Rashid.
909-1171Shi'i dynasty rules Egypt & North Africa, Cairo founded.
945-1055Buyids (a Shi'i family) control Baghdad & Iraq.
1020Death of Firdawsi, Persian Epic poet, reviver of Persian Literature.
1063-1157Seljuk Turks control Iraq.
1171-1250Ayyubid Dynasty in Egypt.
1250-1517Mamluk dynasty in Egypt.
1271Marco Polo reaches Persia en route to China.
1258Hulagu, Mongols sack Baghdad.
1324-1360Ottoman family establishes and expands rule in Anatolia (Asia Minor).
1369-1405Timur (Tamerlane) controls Persia and Mesopotamia.
1425-30 Ottoman-Venetian War
1453Ottomans take Constantinople.
1487Bartholomew Diaz rounds Cape of Good Hope.
1499 Isma'il establishes Safavid Dynasty in Iran; declares Shi'i belief and practice of Islam as official religious form for the Empire.
1502 Tabriz in Azerbaijan is made capital of Safavid Empire.
1505Babur active in India establishing Moghul Dynasty.
1514Shah Isma'il defeated by Ottomans; humiliated, he retires from public activity.
1516Portugese take Hormuz.
1517Ottomans defeat Mamluks, take Egypt and North Africa.
1520-1556Reign of Suleyman the Magnificent as Ottoman Sultan.
1600Shah Abbas makes Isfahan capital of Saffavid Empire.
1664First major Ottoman defeat in Europe.
1677-1681First Ottoman-Russian war.
1722Afghans destroy Safavid power in Iran.
1783Russia annexes Crimea, weakens Ottoman control of Black Sea.
1798Napoleon takes Cairo.
1805Muhammad Ali establishes rule in Egypt
1821-1830Greek war of independence.
1830French occupy Algeria
1834First Arabic printing press established in Beirut.
1844Sayyid Ali Muhammad declares himself to be The Bab.
1866Syrian Protestant College established in Beirut, later becomes American University.
1875British gain control of Egypt.
1881French occupy Tunisia.
First Zionist mission to Palestine. Theodor Herzl begins revival of Hebrew as spoken language in Palestine.
1882British quell Egyptian revolt. Lord Cromer installed as Consul General.
1897First World Zionist Congress held in Basil, Switzerland; founds World Zionist Organization.
1900-1908Hijaz railway built for Muslim pilgrims.
1901Ibn Saud and the Wahhabis take Riyadh.
1905-1908Constitutional Revolution in Iran.
1912Agudat Yisrael founded as counterweight to World Zionist Organization
1913Young Turk revolution takes over Ottoman government.
1914 Formation of al-Ahd, Arab Nationalist secret society.
1914-1918World War I.
1915Husayn-MacMahon correspondence begins, soliciting Arab support for Allied effort and promises British support for Arab state in Greater Syria.
1916Sykes-Picot agreement between France and Great Britain for division of Ottoman lands.
1917Balfour Declaration of British favor for Jewish state in Palestine.
1919Turkish national congress meets.
1920 Faisal, son of Sherif Husayn of Mecca tries to establish Arab Rule in Damascus.
1921Reza leads successful coup in Iran, establishes Pahlavi dynasty.
1922League of Nations ratifies mandate system for European control of former Ottoman territories.
1924 Turkish republic established.
1926Ibn Saud proclaimed King of Hijaz.
1929Violent Arab resistance to British rule of Palestine Mandate.
1936-7Arab revolt in Palestine.
1938 (?)Muslim Brotherhood formed in Egypt.
1939Irgun members lead Jewish attacks on British holdings in Palestine.
1939-1945World War II.
1941 Reza Shah of Iran deposed for German collaboration, son Muhammad installed.
1945Arab League created.
1947U.N. partition plan for Palestine approved.
1948Isreal war of Independence.
1951Mosaddeq elected Prime Minister of Iran. Nationalizes British Petroleum.
1952Nasser leads Arab revolution in Egypt.
1953Shah restored to power in Iran, Mosaddeq arrested
1956Suez War. Egypt gains full control of canal and its revenues.
1958Egypt and Syria form United Arab Republic. Dissolved in 1961.
1963Ba'thist coup in Syria. Coup in Iraq.
1963P.L.O formed.
1967Arab-Israeli War.
1968Coup in Iraq, consolidation of Ba'thist power.
1969 Yasser Arafat becomes head of PLO.
 Hafiz al-Asad takes control of Syrian government.
 Qaddafi leads revolt in Libya.
1970Anwar Sadat succeedes Nasser as President of Egypt.
1973 Arab-Isaeli War.
1975Iran-Iraq treaty to end border dispute.
1978Camp David.
1979Sadat assassinated in Egypt. Hosni Mubarak replaces Sadat and Prime Minister.
1980Iran-Iraq war breaks out.
1982Israel invades Lebanon.
1987U.S. re-flags Kuwaiti oil tankers.
1988Palestinian Intifada breaks out in Israeli Occupied Territories.
1990(August) Iraq invades Kuwait and drives out ruling Sabah family.
1991(January) U.S. led multi-national force attacks Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq. Sabah family is restored to power in Kuwait. Iraq accepts U.N. terms of surrender. Saddam Hussein retains power
1990-92Regional peace talks begin under U.S. and Soviet sponsorship to resolve disputes between Arab states, the Palestinians and Israel.

2. Commentary

      During the Abbasid period (750-1258), the Muslims came closer to achieving the Islamic vision of a global community of faith governed by institutions based on spiritual principles and religious law as expressed in the Qur'an. One's status in the community was based more on achievement and less on lineage or family affiliations, though these influences persisted in their importance. Material wealth gave families power, influence and status. However they could be easily erased by circumstance and misfortune. More enduring and more precious was one's reputation. This was based on character and accomplishment, whether by wealth, education, governmental & military service, or personal and creative initiative. By the time of the Crusades, suspicion and distrust of the ruling elite--regional governors, military tyrants, the Abbasid family themselves--had become pervasive. More and more Muslims turned to local spiritual leaders or independent institutions such as Sufi orders, religious colleges, trade fraternities, clan leaders, and Shi'ite enclaves. Around the year 1000, Shi'ite affiliations were dominant among the ruling elite: The Fatimid Dynasty (909-1171) that controlled Egypt, North Africa, the Holy land, and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, was an Isma'ili, or Sevener group. Another Isma'ili group controlled parts of Lebanon and Syria. They operated from their strongholds in the mountain ranges of that area. They were essentially rebel. They believed that all the ruling elite were corrupt, had rebelled against God and His religion, and that under the principles governing the use of Jihad, or holy war, could be killed with impunity. They were in reality a cult and their warriors used hashish to achieve the bold abandon necessary to carry out their vicious duties. The became known in European languages as the Assassins, based on the Arabic term Hashashin, or hashish users.

      The Buyyid (932-1062) family controlled much of Iran and Iraq (945-1055), including the Abbasid Caliphate itself. The Zaydis (901-19th C.), or followers of a descendant of the third Imam, Husayn, controlled the south end of the Arabian peninsula and are still the dominant group in the Yemen. This period of Shi'i ascendancy faded with the collapse of the Fatimids in Egypt, the rise of new powers in Iraq and Egypt. The Ayyubid dynasty (1171-1250) gained control of the lands formerly controlled by the Fatimids in Egypt and the Holy land. They succeeded in driving out the Crusaders. By the time the Mongol armies swept down out of central Asia, the Abbasid Empire had ceased to exist. It was the new power rising in North Africa and the Levant (the Holy Land or the regions of Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan). This reflects not only the power and potency of Shi'i influence but the waning of Abbasid power. Provincial governors and powerful families developed into regional powers who ruled in the name of the Abbasid caliph, but more often than not, he ruled by their leave as well, as in the case of the Buyids and later the Seljuks, a Turkic speaking people who preceded the Mongols in their migration from central Asia. By the end of the 12th century, the Fatimids in Egypt fell to another Turkic group known as the Mamluks. Their name means slaves, and in fact they had been the slave army used by the Ayyubid and Abbasid rulers. They became stronger than the ruling family and eventually overthrew them.

      Changes brewing in Central Asia were soon to have an impact all over the world. A Turkic speak nomadic people came under the sway of a charismatic, bold and ruthless leader who took the title of Chingiz Khan. He and his armies lead by his sons spread out east to China, South across the Iranian plateau and west into Europe. Experts in the use horses and the techniques of terror, they took city after city, slaughtering as much as 25% of the population. They would pile the severed heads of their victims outside the city gates, which as they decomposed, would begin to glow at night. In 1256 they reached Baghdad, sacked the city and put an end to the Abbasid line. Hulagu, the son of Chingiz ruled the conquered Islamic lands. The Mongols were interested in conquest, not governance. They quickly employed native administrators to run their kingdoms. Fascinated with the culture of the region, the Mongols quickly assimilated and adopted the religion of Islam. They reinvigorated the central governing institutions and put an end to many of the petty regional rivalries. Yet other clans and peoples in Central Asia began to migrate to the Islamic lands. The Ottomans began to assert control in 1326 over portions of Asia Minor (Anatolia or today, Turkey today). Muslims themselves, they turned their interest toward the west and by 1361 took control of Adrianople. It would take nearly a century to conquer Constantinople. In the meantime, another Mongol conqueror would gain control of India, the Iranian plateau, Syria and part of Anatolia. He was known as Timur, or Tamerlane. The Ottomans finally captured Constantinople in 1453. By 1500, with the introduction and use of gunpowder technology, three new empires were established in the Islamic lands: The Ottoman in the west, ruling from Constantinople controlled Anatolia, the Balkans, Northern Iraq, Syria, Egypt and North Africa. The Safavids controlled the Iranian plateau, and the Moghuls controlled the Indian sub-continent. The next two hundred years witnessed a fresh flowering of Islamic culture and civilization. The Ottomans advanced nearly to Vienna in Europe. The Safavids controlled the regions around the Caspian Sea and Afghanistan. Trade, architecture, literature and mysticism flourished. The Safavids forced Iran to convert to Shi'ism, because their founder, Shah Isma'il venerated Ali and thought himself to be his spiritual return. He was something of a lunatic, but brought the best scholars and clergy he could persuade to settle in Iran and propagate their teachings. When the power of the Safavid dynasty began to decline, powerful clergy involved themselves more and more in matters of state and governance and arrogated to themselves more and more of the authority and functions rightly exercised by the Imams alone.

      From the 17th century on, the Islamic regions began a slow economic decline, as European traders circumvented the trade routes and greedy tarifs of the Muslim rulers, though utilizing their navigational technology. By the 19th century, European diplomacy regarded the Ottoman empire as the "sick man of Europe. To avoid disastrous wars for hegemony, they propped up the Ottoman state and used their growing influence to manipulate the Ottoman rulers to suit European interest. Into this turbulent and decadent environment, the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh were born and began to spread their radical vision for a fundamentally different world order.

      During the period some historians have called the "Gunpowder Empires," the Ottomans controlling what is today Turkey, The eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, Iraq and parts of Eastern Europe. The Safavids controlled the Iranian plateau and the Mogul controlled the Indian subcontinent. Islam itself as a religion and the spiritual foundation of a nearly global civilization, had spread much wider into sub-Saharan Africa, along the silk routes of trade through central Asia into China, and far into the Pacific. At one point China was 25% Muslim! Today, the largest Muslim country by population is Indonesia. Islam is growing in numbers and strength in the United States today, but it came to this country with the slaves in the 17th and 18th century.

      Military and political control, however is an ever changing phenomena. The power of the Safavid and Ottoman states began to decline in the late 17th and 18th Centuries. The Ottomans frequently engage in war with the Austrians and the Russians during the 17th and 18th Centuries. In 1717 the Ottomans lose Belgrade after controlling it for almost 200 years. Yet the Ottomans remain a formidable power in Europe and Asian. The Safavid Empire declined more rapidly. As they did, the Shi'ite 'ulama' grow stronger in social and political power. They arrogate to themselves more and more of the functions in the religion that more properly belonged to the Imams, the last of whom disappeared 7 centuries before. In 1722 the Safavids are defeated by Afghani forces, who control Iran briefly. They are driven out by Nadir Shah in 1730. Nadir Shah also manages to drive back Russian forces in the North. He is assassinated in 1747 Another powerful military ruler, Karim Khan Zand gains power in Iran over the next ten years and rules until 1779. A measure of stability returns to Iran by the end of the century when a new dynasty is established, the Qajars, beginning with Agha Muhammad in 1796. They, like their predecessors depend on the support of the Shi'i ulama to rule effectively. The Shi'i leaders believe they have a rightful role in affairs of state because they are the experts in Islamic law and because the Imams, they believe should have been the rightful rulers of the Islamic world. This spawns the notion that ideally, religious and political authority should be linked as it was during the lifetime of the Prophet and during the brief rule of Ali, the first Imam. The 'ulama', or scholars and religious functionaries, exercise their authority in memory of the Imams and with the hope of Their blessings and inspired guidance, and through their understanding of the fundamentals of the teachings of Islam.

      Economically, the Middle East was beginning to decline as well. European traders and European powers were able to establish trade routes that by-passed Muslim controlled lands as the Portuguese and British did, or by gaining concessions from the Ottoman through various treaties following Ottoman defeats. The British were able to obtain treaties in the Persian Gulf with the small, independent Sheikhs that controlled. In India and East Asia the British and the Portuguese conquered a number of important ports and competed for power and trade in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

      In 1798, an astonishing event occurs. Napoleon Bonaparte took Cairo and conquered Egypt. This was the first time a European power had entered what was considered the heartland of the Islamic world since the Crusades. And even then, the Crusaders were only able to control small areas of Palestine for brief periods. The fall of Egypt to the French sent shock-waves through the Islamic world that would reverberate throughout the 19th Century. The French were driven out of Egypt very shortly and a new independent ruler by the name of Muhammad Ali took control of Egypt and began to extend his control into Syria, threatening Ottoman control of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Ottomans enlisted the aid of Britain and France to limit the power and influence of Muhammad Ali and the advance of his forces. The first Arabic printing press is established in Beirut in 1834. The first Arabs begin to travel to France and Britain to study in hopes that they might learn some of the secrets of their technology and rising power. Ideas of French nationalism begin to be introduced.
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