Magazine article Geographical

The History of Central Asia: The Age of Islam and the Mongols

Magazine article Geographical

The History of Central Asia: The Age of Islam and the Mongols

Article excerpt

THE HISTORY OF CENTRAL ASIA: The Age of Islam and the Mongols

by Christoph Baumer; IB Tauris; 30 [pounds sterling] (hardback)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For the layman, the history of Central Asia is complex. When I first visited the Buddhist cave grottos, dating from the 5th to the 14th century, at Bezekilk in Xinjiang province, China, I was struck by the destruction wreaked on them by those whose religion proscribes figurative images of sentient beings. When and by whom had the vandalism of these exquisite and colourful portraits been done? I later learnt that the Buddhist Uyghurs of the Kingdom of Qocho and Turfan, in which Bezekilk was situated, were converted to Islam by conquest during a holy war at the hands of the Muslim Chagatai Khizr Khwaja. Not easy information to assimilate.

Genghis Khan and the Mongol horde's activities are widely known but not always in detail. What dynasties did they sweep away on their destructive paths of pillage and conquest? Many of the dynasties they conquered were under the influence of Islam. Vet in their turn, these Muslims had overcome Sogdian princedom resistance in the 9th century. Central Asian history can be extremely confusing for the non-specialist.

Into this Central Asian complexity and confusion steps Dr Christoph Baumer with a masterly third installment in his four-volume series on Central Asia covering the Age of Islam and the Mongols. With his consummate academic and archaeological professionalism, Baumer cuts through the historical smokescreen and gives a detailed and authoritative account appropriate for both scholar and layman alike.

He explains that prior to the 8th century, Islam had established itself in Central Asia through a combination of Iranian book and Turkish sword. Turkic-Muslim dynasties were established and Islam offered an ideological method to break down borders between warring clans and tribes. By the mid-11th century, science, scholarship and the arts flourished as this newly-established Central Asian hegemony spread to other parts of the Muslim world. This cultural development in turn was followed between 1000 and 1220 AD by a complete reconfiguration of the region--ethnically, linguistically and politically--by further Islamic Turkic migrations and through dynasties they established such as the Seljuks, the Karakhanids, and the Ghaznavids. …

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