The Legacy of Islamic Civilisations 632-1924

The aim of the course is to allow students to gain an understanding of the historical forces that have shaped the Islamic civilisation from its founding in the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century until the demise of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924. In this process the significance of the historical continuity will be made evident to the students. Studying the rise and fall of empires especially that of the Ottomans will provide students of history an understanding of historical continuity and how historical forces determine rise and fall of civilisations.


  • Brockelmann, Carl (ed). History of the Islamic Peoples. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.
  • Grousset, Rene. The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970.
  • Inalcik, Halil. The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1600. London: Phoenix, 1973.
  • Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • Lings, Martin. Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1986.


  • Pre-Islamic Arabia and the birth of Islam in the 7th century: This session briefly focuses on the pre-Islamic period in Arabia before the onset of Islam in the 7th century. We will be looking at the life of Muhammad before and after his prophethood, and how that played a significant role in the development of the early Muslim community in the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.
  • The Islamic Empire: the Umayyads – from Damascus to Cordoba: This session looks at the rise and fall of the Umayyad Caliphate with its capital at Damascus (632-750) and the flowering civilisation it established in Spain (750-1492) with great cities like Granada, Cordoba, Seville.
  • The Abbasids: From China to North Africa 750-1258 – Islamic Enlightenment: Glory of medieval Baghdad – Islamic Philosophy, Arts and Sciences, and Sufi Humanism, 8th-12th centuries: The fall of the Umayyad dynasty in 750 led to the rise of the Abbasids with its capital in Baghdad in 750. The Abbasid Empire spread from China in the East to North Africa and Anatolia. Baghdad became the centre of learning of the medieval world where ancient and classical texts of the Greeks were translated into Arabic with added commentaries. Islamic learning spread to Europe via Muslim Spain and contributed to the making of the Renaissance in Europe. The decline of the Abbasids led to the rise of independent Islamic dynasties including the Fatimids in Egypt (909-1171). It was a Shi’a Islamic caliphate that spanned a large area of North Africa, from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. The dynasty of Arab origin ruled across the Mediterranean coast of Africa and ultimately made Egypt the centre of the caliphate making its contributions to learning and the arts. The collapse of the Fatimids saw the rise of the Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo (1261-1517).
  • The Seljuk Empire of Rum: The rise of the Turks in Central Asia witnessed the establishment of number of Turkic empires. The Seljuk Empire was founded by Tughrul Beg (1016–1063) and his brother Chaghri Beg (989–1060) in 1037. From their homelands near the Aral Sea, the Seljuks advanced first into Khorasan and then into mainland Persia, before eventually conquering eastern Anatolia. Here the Seljuks won the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 and conquered most of Anatolia from the Byzantine Empire, which became one of the reasons for the first crusade (1095-1099). From their capital in Konya, in central Anatolia, they went on to create a distinct civilisation under the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum (1077-1308) embedded with Islamic and Sufi mysticism, and Central Asian Turkic flavour. The Seljuk dynasty rejuvenated the Islamic civilisation hitherto dominated by Arabs and Persians. The Seljuks founded universities and were also patrons of art and literature. Their reign is characterised by Persian astronomers such as Omar Khayyam, the Persian philosopher al-Ghazali and the Sufi mystic Rumi. Under the Seljuks, New Persian became the language for historical recording, while the centre of Arabic language culture shifted from Baghdad to Cairo. From c. 1150-1250, the Seljuk Empire declined, and was invaded by the Mongols around 1260. The Mongols divided Anatolia into emirates. Eventually one of these, the Ottoman, would conquer the rest.
  • Islamic Dynasties – Timurids, Safavids and Mughals: After the decline of Mongol Muslim rule, the region split into autonomous dynasties leading to the rise of other Muslim political entities in Iran, Central Asia and India namely the Timurids in Central Asia, Safavids in Iran and the Mughals in India that went on to create their distinct Islamic civilisations and renaissances.
  • The Rise of the Ottoman State (1299-1453): The collapse of the Seljuks of Rum contributed to the rise of semi autonomous Turkic dynasties in Anatolia until the rise of the tribe of Osman in Bursa (ancient Prusa) around 1299. Osman (or Othman) and his successors went on to consolidate their power over the region until the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire, by the 21 year old Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.
  • The Ottoman Empire 1453-1566 – From the Conquest of Constantinople to World Empire: After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, renamed Istanbul, the Ottoman State founded by Osman became one of the universal empires of the early modern period in the Mediterranean alongside Spain and Venice. The expansionist policies of Sultan Mehmed II and his successors saw the empire expand in the East against their Shia rivals of Iran and the Mameluks of Egypt; and the West against Venice and the rising Habsburgs in the Balkans.
  • The Ottoman Renaissance in the Süleymanic Age 1520-1595 – Süleyman I, Selim II and Murad III: The Ottoman Empire reached its zenith, politically, economically, militarily and culturally during the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566). The Ottoman Empire of the 16th century experiences its own distinct Renaissance. This cultural reawakening occurred simultaneously in the Mediterranean basin alongside the Renaissance in Italy. Architecture, miniature paintings, Iznik ceramic tiles, textiles, leather bound books among other works of art were produced by the master artists at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The great imperial architect Sinan, a contemporary of Michelangelo competed with his Latin Christian counterparts to build structures that would glorify God.
  • Perceptions of the Other: Ottomans, Orientalism and the West, 17th -19th centuries: The onset of the long decline of the Ottoman Empire from 1699 onward contributed to the oscillating perceptions of the Muslim East. These European perceptions varied from one of curiosity to utter contempt. This session looks at these changing perceptions of the Ottomans and Islam via primary sources from European travellers and artists of the period to the Ottoman court.
  • Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire 1878-1924 and Legacy: The rise of nationalism and imperialism in the West, and of Tsarist Russia, combined with economic stagnation led to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War 1 in 1918. The Allied occupation of the capital Istanbul at the end of the war witnessed the rise and triumph of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the abolishment of the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate with the birth of the Republic of Turkey.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Discuss the nature of the rise and fall of empires.
  2. Understand the rise of Islamic civilisations beginning in the 7th century.
  3. Understand historical continuity.
  4. Develop and extend their knowledge and understanding of cultural, artistic and political systems of Islamic civilisations.
  5. Appreciate the cross-cultural interactions that shaped world history.
  6. Understand and discuss the cultural contributions of Islamic civilisations to world history.
$270 Limited / $243

<p>The aim of the course is to allow students to gain an understanding of the historical forces that have shaped the Islamic civilisation from its founding in the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century

31 Jan

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