The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna

The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna

The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna

The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna

Synopsis

Sicker examines the thousand-year ascendancy of Islam from the Arab conquests to the zenith of Ottoman expansionism under Suleiman the Magnificent. He provides a unique perspective on that history that gives full account of the role played by religion as an instrument of geopolitics by both the Muslim and Christian worlds, as jihad and crusade.

Excerpt

In an earlier book, The Pre-Islamic Middle East, I pointed out that in addition to the critical geopolitical factors of geography and topography, religion also played a major political role in justifying, if not conditioning, the pattern of political decision-making in the region. The ancient Macedonians first introduced the politicization of religious belief in the form of pan- Hellenism, which essentially sought to impose Greek forms of popular religion and culture on the indigenous peoples of the Middle East as a means of solidifying Macedonian political control. This subsequently led to the institution of religious persecution as a state policy in the Seleucid Empire by Antiochus IV, in turn precipitating the first recorded war of national- religious liberation under the leadership of the Hasmoneans in Palestine. Subsequently, the Persian Sassanid Empire adopted Zoroastrianism as the state religion, making it an instrument of state policy intended to unify the diverse peoples that lived within the imperial frontiers. Later, when Armenia adopted Christianity as the state religion, followed shortly by the Roman Empire, religion became a fundamental ingredient in the politics of the Middle East and has remained such ever since. But it was with the emergence of Islam that the combination of geopolitics and religion, or theopolitics, reached its most volatile form and provided the ideological context for war and peace in the Middle East for more than a millennium.

The conflation of geopolitics and religion in Islam is predicated on the concept of jihad (struggle), which is a religious obligation imposed on all Muslims by the faith. The jihad may be understood as a crescentade, in the same sense as the later Christian crusade, which seeks to achieve a religious goal by militant means. The basis for the religious obligation of jihad is the professed universality of the Muslim revelation. As Bernard Lewis put it . . .

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