An early modern Pax Islamica

The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughal has been in my “stack” for a while. It’s a short and academically-oriented work. What’s great about this book is that it is cross-cultural and comparative. I don’t know about you, but these sorts of narrative frames make recall and retention far easier for me. The integration of facts with other facts means that the sum of the parts is greater than the parts evaluated alone. In this, it has similarities with Strange Parallels: Integration on the Mainland: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c.800–1830.

The title itself is informative. These were Islamic polities in a self-conscious manner. The Ottoman Sultan emerged out of a parvenue lineage on the western Anatolian frontier whose claim to rule was based on their status as ghazis. Warriors of the faith. Their Mandate was confirmed through victory. The Safavids had religious charisma before they were temporally powerful. They were hereditary leaders of a Sufi order (their adoption of Shia Islam was a relatively late event). Finally, the Mughals were arguably the least religiously inflected of the three early modern dynasties, despite their appeal to the ghazi ethos.

Rather, the Mughals were notable because of their lineage, which was the most prestigious of the three. The Timurids descended from Timur, obviously, but more importantly, they descended on their maternal side from Genghis Khan. Though Genghis Khan was a pagan, whose scions destroyed much of the Islamic civilization of the Near East (and killed the last Abbassid Caliphs), the raw power and impact of the conqueror was such that he cast a shadow over the whole Turco-Persian world.

The key issue here is that these were dynasties of the Turco-Persian world, more or less. These were not states of the Islamic Arab world, though the Ottomans eventually absorbed much of that world in their later expansionary phase. Nor were they states of the Far East, or even Inner Asia. Despite all their other antecedents,* these dynasties were of Turkic provenance, and yet their entry into Islam was associated with their entry into Persianate culture.

The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughal takes a chronological tack in that it explores the origins of the three polities as far back as 1000 A.D., and also addresses thematic elements (e.g., architecture, poetry, and economics). Because of the thematic component it is not a work that needs to be read in sequence chapter by chapter, though perhaps doing so would allow for full appreciation.

One thing that jumps out is that in many ways the Safavid Iranian regime is an outlier in many ways. This is obviously true in regards to religion. The Safavids began as a vaguely Sunni but very Sufi religious order in eastern Anatolia. But by 1500 they were promoting arguably ghulat forms of Shia Islam, before settling down on mainstream Ithna Ashari beliefs. It is to this period that connections between Iran, a term that they resurrected, and the Shia cities of Iraq and the Shia regions of Lebanon, were established. It is during this period that Iran was forcibly converted from a mostly Sunni cultural region with Shia pockets to a Shia domain.

The Safavid domains corresponded roughly to what we now know as the Iranian nation-state (Mesopotamia was part of the Safavid domains for a few decades here and there). Despite early attempts at expansion into their Anatolian homelands, rebuffed by the muscular Ottoman military machine, the Safavids were preoccupied with internal concerns. The religious transformation of a whole region through coercion expended a great deal of capital. The early Ottoman state before 1500, and the Mughal domains for its entirety, was different from the Safavids insofar as the ruling military elite were of a different religious identity from the majority whom they ruled (Christians and Hindus respectively).

In contrast, the Ottomans did not attempt to forcibly reshape the culture of their vast domains. The millet system established subordinate roles for non-Muslims, while Ottoman hegemony over their 16th-century conquests in Arab lands did not disrupt native elites (the Mameluke Sultanate was conquered, but the Mamelukes remained Egypt’s ruling caste for centuries under the Ottomans). Within Anatolia and parts of Rumelia a process of assimilation of Greeks, Macedonians, and Armenians, to a “Turkish” identity occurred organically through conversion to Islam. Over the centuries the cosmopolitan tastes of the early Sultans, who spoke Persian at court and styled themselves, successors of the Roman Emperors, gave way to a classical Ottoman identity as leaders of the Muslim world who nevertheless had their own linguistic identity.

The Mughals, though just to the east of Safavid Iran, were a polity characterized by extremely different concerns and resources. Mughal controlled India was the second most populous polity in the world after Ming China. It dwarfed Safavid Persia, even the Ottoman Empire. The Timurids conquered a civilization, or perhaps more accurately a coalition of civilizations. Unlike the Ottomans and to a lesser extent Safavids the Mughals did not create “slave” armies and “slave” bureaucracies. The native resources of India’s people were such that this was not necessary (the argument in regards to labor also is often used to explain why slavery was never popular in China). Hindu Rajputs served in the Mughals in military roles, while groups such as Kayasthas served them in civilian roles.

But the Mughal story is not simply one of “going native.” The Ottomans and Safavids relied on “slave” armies due to the fact that these were often more loyal to the regime than regional or tribal levies. The Mughals opened up India to vast numbers of Turkic warriors and Persian literati. These two groups were regime loyalists because like slaves they lacked local roots.

As Persia become more Shia, many of these foreigners who arrived in India were Shia, but there were also broader connections to the Hanafi Sunni world, as far afield as the Ottoman domains. For example, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb patronized the compilation of a series of religious codes, which apparently became quite well known and popular in Ottoman Anatolia.

It is often said that Indian Islam became rooted in the soil of the subcontinent and took upon syncretistic aspects. This is true as far as it goes, but it seems clear to me that the integration of the Mughal ruling class into Turco-Persian culture served as a major check upon this process. The Mughal Emperor Akbar clearly exhibited a tendency toward synthesis and innovation in his religious thought, but his views did not win the day. Rather, it is notable that The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughal reinforces the contention that each successive Mughal Emperor from Akbar, to Jahangir, to Shah Jahan, and finally Aurangzeb, adhered more closely to West Asian normative Islam.

A distinctive aspect of the Mughal polity is that it assimilated and promoted individuals who were ethnocultural distinct from the core ruling elite. In fact, arguably very disparate groups were all bound together as part of the core ruling elite. In particular, the Rajput generals who served the Mughals. This is in contrast with the Ottoman and Safavid cases, where conversion of the slave to Islam entailed eventual ethnic assimilation. The problem with Aurangzeb, despite his military victories, is that he began aggressively espousing a more West Asian style of ideological assimilating, coaxing and coercing Hindu military elites into Islam. The Mughal equipoise was broken, and while Safavid Iran gave way to polities which inherited all its major features (the Zand and Qajar regimes), and the Ottomans persisted in their long decline, Mughal India quickly shattered in the 18th-century, to leave behind a broad cultural influence.

More generally The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughal illustrates that a ruling elites with a similar ethos can span multiple polities. Despite the religious distinctiveness of the Safavids, which became more clear over time, the three early modern Muslim polities fostered trade and intellectual exchange. Large colonies of Indian merchants were resident in Isfahan (from which they eventually sojourned to Astrakhan and eventually Moscow).

As noted in The Idea of the Muslim World Indian Muslims after the fall of the Mughal Empire had a major influence on Islam in what became Turkey. In Bernard Lewis’ oeuvre there is discussion about the West’s rise and its supremacy over the world of Islam, and the psychological shock that that entailed. But what about the Maratha captivity of the Mughals and how they shaped the confusion of Indian Muslims?

The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughal illustrates that cross-cultural and cross-national civilizational affinities and ties are quite common. Today many view the West as sui generis. In some ways that are true, in magnitude, and scope. But around the year 1500, a group of Turkic tribesmen had conquered remnants of Byzantium, the Persian Empire, and India. In the ensuing centuries, they transformed these regions, and were themselves transformed. Today to be Persian and to be Shia are almost synonymous (Tajiks tend to be Sunni of course). But this was the consequence of Turkic tribesman. Today Anatolia is mostly Turkish speaking, but that is due to centuries of cultural assimilation. Finally, many elements of Indian culture are hard to imagine without the Mughal period.

* The Safavids had Greek and Kurdish origins as well, though in their early period the Turkic ethnic component was most important. Similarly, the Timurids had recent Mongol ancestry, but their primary identity was with the Turco-Persian world. Finally, the early period of the Ottomans is obscure, but it is hard to imagine that these Anatolian Turks did not absorb some of the “substrate” elements. Mehmet the Conqueror had a Christian, possibly European, mother.

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77 Replies to “An early modern Pax Islamica”

  1. /Within Anatolia and parts of Rumelia a process of assimilation of Greeks, Macedonians, and Armenians, to a “Turkish” identity occurred organically through conversion to Islam./

    >>> Macedonians? – Are you joking? They did not exist at that time, they are communist-made artificial nation, created in 1945.

    /Mehmet the Conqueror had a Christian, possibly European, mother./ >>> She was Serbian.

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      1. No, I am not. Ancient Macedonians were Serbs (e.g. Alexander the Great aka Lesandar Karanovic was a Serb). Also, the 15th century is not the ancient period.

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  2. Nice post Razib.

    It is interesting that the decline in Mughal and Safavid domains happened around the same time. The Ottomans continued to soldier on for century more.

    You write – “The problem with Aurangzeb, despite his military victories, is that he began aggressively espousing a more West Asian style of ideological assimilating, coaxing and coercing Hindu military elites into Islam. The Mughal equipoise was broken…”. What is interesting is that regardless of who controlled major chunks of the dissipating Mughal Empire, they maintained the figment of Mughal supremacy. Marathas did not put one of their own on the Mughal throne. They propped up Mughal princes. Bengal and Hyderabad, though independent for all practical purposes, maintained nominal fealty to Mughals.

    The Ottoman Empire was finally bested by European powers. [I know that the Ottomans were also partially European!] OTOH, the Safavid and Mughal demise was due primarily local actors and factors. What is interesting is that the same person who deals the death blow to the Safavids – Nadir Shah, almost did the same for the Mughals by sacking Delhi and emptying out the Mughal treasury.

    The English did bring down the curtain on the Mughal dynasty, but the Mughal rulers were not calling the shots for almost a century before this happened.

    I have to get my hands on this book.

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    1. “The English did bring down the curtain on the Mughal dynasty, but the Mughal rulers were not calling the shots for almost a century before this happened.”

      for all practical purposes mughal empire had ceased to exist in 1739 when nadir shah captured delhi and had the khutba read in his name. the reason mughal empire dragged on till 1857, at least in name, was because the empire was worth more alive than dead. the institution of empire radiated tremendous prestige.

      indeed in the late 1700s mughal empire had more “protectors” than the emperor wished for. british, afghans, marathas, rohillas, awadh nawab etc all acted in the name of emperor and carried on their private warfare among themselves. for e.g. a hindu maratha mahadji scindhia plundered hindu rajput kingdoms of rajasthan in the name of collecting tribute for the mughal emperor. even abdali’s invasion of india was officially projected as a mission to save the mughal empire from infidel marathas.

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    2. @J T – The Ottomans were only artificially propped up by Britain and Russia for another century, otherwise they would have been destroyed in 1830s! Egypt under the Muhammad Ali dynasty already took over all of Syria and Palestine, got as far as western Turkey, and was on the verge of conquering Constantinople. Only because Ottomans sought Russian protection was the reason western powers suddenly got involved to save the Ottomans, in order for Anatolia and the Mediterranean not to be in Russian hands. The only reason Constantinople wasn’t taken was because the Russian army protected the city from the invading Egyptian forces. British involvement later meant Egypt had to give Syria back to Ottomans.

      In a way, it was a pity because the Muhammad Ali dynasty was far more enlightened than the Ottomans, and treated religious minorities better. Crimes like the Armenian Genocide would not have happened – the Middle East suffered greatly by having their most literate and industrious ethnic group wiped out.

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    1. And this precisely is at the root of the Iranian “problem” in the present day. Unlike Roman and Greek civilizational dominance that dates back millenia, Iran has thrown up multiple dynasties that have dominated the Middle-East and Central Asia till a couple of centuries back. Persian cultural influence has been immensely powerful. The flowering of Islamic civilization happened in concert with the conversion of Iran to the Islamic faith. As Iran converted to Islam, the Persianate world in turn transformed Islam.

      Iran’s self-perception is out of proportion to its power “potential” in its current incarnation. Iran can be a global power only as (A) leader of the Islamic world, (B) a junior partner of China+Russia or (C) god forbid a junior partner of the USA!

      Iranian memories of playing an outsize role in terms of influencing a broad swath of the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia are very fresh. It is very difficult for Iran to settle for regional power status, despite all the oil that it may currently have underground. Oil that cannot be exported because of USA’s intransigence.

      I would not be surprised to see a pragmatic move on the part of the Islamic clerics in Iran to pare back their foreign adventurism in return for some sort of a truce with the US that allows them to resume some of the oil exports. Without revenue from oil, it is a matter of time before the Iranian clerics are at the receiving end of a revolution. I believe that the removal of Suleimani and the downing of the Ukrainian airliner are portents of major change in Iran.

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      1. I think Iran strength lies in the shadows. Unfortunately for them, the US attack forced them to do something in daylight, where they seem to come across even worse than Indians.

        I still think Iran out sized expectation is due to this dichotomy of having to contend with regional powers (Arabs) who arguably are weaker than them, but are supported by a world power(USA) . That’s why they get their calculation wrong, sometimes. USA retreating and entrenching itself in middle east has them confused.

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          1. Russia (with some support of China) still has requisite military strength to rebuff USA. Iran doesn’t have any conventional strength whatsoever. Nor diplomatic support. So when push comes to shove it will flounder like this time around.

            I agree , at the end of day, deterrence lies in perception of each other. With USA breaking this larger than life of image of Iran’s capabilities, it wouldn’t be surprise that the Arabs start playing some military games of their own now (and floundering in that too) .

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        1. Saurav – “USA retreating and entrenching itself in middle east has them confused.”

          LoL. It has confused americans, russians, arabs and iranians alike. only trump seems to know what exactly america’s policy for middle east is *.

          * at least that’s what everybody hopes.

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      2. The Islamic Republic would be in a very good position, if the institution was deeply popular. They’ve been very smart with managing they sphere of influence, and they don’t need all that many resources to keep doing it.

        Missiles and drones along the Persian Gulf give them their own equivalent of the Samson Option – if you threaten our survival, we can cripple the global economy, and also essentially kill every hostile Gulf Arab state (what happens when all your desalination plants, on the coast, get blown up?). They don’t even need nukes.

        And with the merest fraction of resources expended by the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, they’ve helped every sympathetic Shia group in the Middle East prop themselves up, and have even established their own mini-Samson deterrent over Israel in the form of Hezbollah’s missile inventory.

        The only major problem for Iran is that the regime isn’t very popular. I don’t give a democratic revolution much chance of success, but the regime still has to take popular unrest into account. The price of Iran’s regional success is an international economic siege led by the United States, and it’s hard to withstand a siege if the people under siege aren’t behind the war effort 100%.

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      3. Iran has really declined in the past 250 years. For some context: the population of the Safavid Empire at its end was less than 9 million people. Ottoman lands had 30 million, and Mughal lands had 150 million. Iran really punched above its weight geopolitically and culturally in those days.

        Iranian memories of the country being powerful are not that fresh. Most Iranians know Iran was nothing for the past 200 years, but it’s interesting how relatively weak Iran has been for past 50 years when you compare it to Safavid and Nader Shah’s time. Maybe Iran is relatively weak compared to its past due to the massive brain drain of Iranian elites to India in the past few centuries? Who knows..

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        1. “Maybe Iran is relatively weak compared to its past due to the massive brain drain of Iranian elites to India in the past few centuries?”

          Did the Zoroastrians and the Shia who moved to India constitute that large a proportion of Iran’s elite?

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          1. I was not referring to the Zoroastrians, but there was large-scale emigration of Sunni and Shia Iranian elites into India, as well as Armenians. The Armenian trade network based in New Julfa, Isfahan mostly left the country, and a large number ended up in India (e.g. Apcar and Company, an old Armenian shipping company). Iran’s economy suffered greatly when its Armenian merchant elite left the country.

            But yes, Iranian Sunnis and Shias that moved to India were a large percentage of Iran’s elite. Iranicaonline.org has a good brief on that migration, saying there were very few peasants/nomads among them, and they were instead mostly people from upper echelons of society – so many gained good employment in lands ruled by the Mughals, Adil Shahis, Hyderabad, etc.

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          2. @Cyrus
            That’s pretty fascinating. I shall read more on Iranian history of that period. Is there any source you would recommend apart from Iranicaonline?

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          3. @Prats – A book you’ll maybe like is “Mughal Arcadia: Persian Literature in an Indian Court” by Sunil Sharma. I have not read this, but I plan to, and I know it does address the subject of Iranian Muslim emigration to India a lot. From a snippet I read it does seem to suggest that the scale of elite Iranian emigration to India was so vast that Iran’s government was left with inexperienced officials. That could partially explain why Iran for the past 200 years has been so weak compared to its past.

            There’s also “From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa” by Sebouh Aslanian. It doesn’t really address Iranian Muslim immigration to India, but it does describe the decline of the Safavids and the conditions that led to Armenians in Iran transplanting themselves to India. It talks of Nader Shah and how severely he messed Iran up, his invasions of India, etc.

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        2. after 1800 whole nations mobilized for war. prussia started it, but french revolutionary mobilization was way more extreme than prussia. i that situation small population states couldn’t compete.

          before this period only a small % of people were used for war, and if you had pastoral nomads it was better since they were mobile and battle-ready. people/places like persia, mongolia and hungary were superpowers despite low manpower. no longer today

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          1. A different data point is Aurangzeb’s full scale invasion of the Deccan to conquer the Shia kingdoms and also to subjugate the Marathas.

            My understanding is that the resistance that Aurangzeb faced in Maratha lands was closer to a “people’s war”. Granted that the Marathas were not a single nation state as we understand it today. Maratha identity was partially forged by Aurangzeb!

            The Maratha lands paid a huge price since these areas were devastated in terms of agriculture and economic activity. However, eventually it was Aurangzeb and the Mughals who paid the price in terms of setting the stage for the the dissolution of empire.

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    2. no. the beginning of the transition started with the ummayad-abbassid transition in 750, and really cranked up in much of the north and east of the islamic world after 900 AD. mahmud of ghanzi, a turk, patronized the shahnameh, around 1000 AD.

      the majority of the intellectuals of the arab intellectual golden age btwn 750 and 950 were ethnic iranians who wrote in arabic.

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  3. “One thing that jumps out is that in many ways the Safavid Iranian regime is an outlier in many ways. This is obviously true in regards to religion. The Safavids began as a vaguely Sunni but very Sufi religious order in eastern Anatolia. ”

    I think the Safavids are somewhat analogous to Marathas. First subservient to a local foreign rulers (Shirvan-shah, Qutob-shahis) and then rose due to numerical strength of clan following (Qizilbash,Marathas) ,resisting a much bigger enemy . To me the reason the Marathas could do what they could (resist during bad times, flourish during good times) , and let say the rajputs couldn’t is because of their overall numerical strength. We see that to some extent with sikhs and jats as well.

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  4. i think JT’s point is valid. iran’s self-image is bigger than it’s abilities.

    also, iran IS very powerful in a *regional* context. but it’s in a region which is also going to be of interest to outsiders.

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  5. What is interesting is that regardless of who controlled major chunks of the dissipating Mughal Empire, they maintained the figment of Mughal supremacy. Marathas did not put one of their own on the Mughal throne. They propped up Mughal princes. Bengal and Hyderabad, though independent for all practical purposes, maintained nominal fealty to Mughals.

    cultural ascendency can outlast temporal power for centuries until a new claimant to ascendency emerges and lasts. the zho dynasty had official imperial status for 5 centuries after its real power was gone https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhou_dynasty#Eastern_Zhou

    it was only deposed when a new paramount dynasty arose (chin).

    the merovingians were around for 100 years as powerless puppets before being put aside https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merovingian_dynasty#Weakening_of_the_kingdom

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  6. Mughal’s were Persian-ized turco-mongols. Heck most of the Delhi sultanate were also persian-ized turks. This is because Central Asia was Persian in culture when the turks invaded those lands and then adopted local customs. Mughal’s and Ottoman’s were not actually Persian as we would understand the term today. And they certainly weren’t from the modern region of Iran.

    But I can see how Iran can get a big head about all this. This entire incident (with the US and the mistake with the jet) must have brought them all down a major peg.

    Indeed from an islamic perspective overall I imagine the psychological impact from the rise of Europe and the colonial powers must be even more pronounced than say the Hindu experience.

    I’m reading William Dalrymple’s new book on the East India Company – apparently India was 30% of global GDP when the company starting trading with India. So that plus the Safavids and the Ottomans means that the broader Islamic world was likely responsible for up to 50% of global GDP.

    How times change… dramatically. I wonder if in 50 – 100 years we’ll be looking at a China dominated world and wondering whatever happened to the West.

    Britain certainly seems headed back to random North Atlantic island status… shades of Mongolia.

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    1. Hmmm….As a simple back of the envelope test –

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population_in_1700 – Mughal’s in 1700 about 23% of world population, Ottoman 3.6%, Safavid 0.7%. About 27% of world population together.

      In 1600 –
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population_in_1600 – Mughal 19.9%, Ottoman 4.5%, Safavid 0.6%. About 25%.

      If per capita GDP beats the world average by significant multiples, they could be above that in %world GDP terms, but it seems more like they’d hit about the average per capita GDP? Assume they’re mostly superseded by Western Europe (as is reasonably likely https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_by_past_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita) but not by vast amounts (little divergence, not yet great divergence), and you probably get to about 20% of world GDP as a reasonable estimate. Though much less of that will actually be activity generated by Muslims per se, given the large Mughal share.

      (Remaining unaccounted for share in the above links is mainly SE Asia, African, Native American – mostly that’s unlikely to be Muslim, though it is of probably low per capita GDP, so that might push the above up a bit).

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  7. “Iran was forcibly converted from a mostly Sunni cultural region with Shia pockets to a Shia domain.”

    This is a huge deal in modern Sunni circles (which are often anti-Iran circlejerks), especially for Desis. Its lost on them that the same was done by the Sunni Ghaznavids and Ghurids to the then largely Shia Multan.

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  8. Its lost on them that the same was done by the Sunni Ghaznavids and Ghurids to the then largely Shia Multan.

    the mughals did this too to lots of ismailis. in particular, in gujarat.

    most day-to-day religious policing under indo-islamic regimes had to do with boundary violations (heresy and ghulat sects).

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    1. “the mughals did this too to lots of ismailis. in particular, in gujarat.”

      i think there are better examples. wasn’t egypt shia (fatimid) once, and converted en-masse to sunni?

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  9. Some of my Iranian colleagues tell me that they are taught to be proud of Iranian culture as it spread without bounds. It might be true but what they don’t realize is that it’s the turko Mongols who were the carriers. Not only that chauvinism but also their inability to estimate their strengths in today’s world may break them for good. Am not sure if iranians can beat even Pakistan or india in a conventional war.

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    1. sort of true but not true also. the *mongol* part only makes sense after 1250 or so. so not really delhi sultanate, though mongol invasions pushed more turks/iranians to india. it is true that turks of some sort were the causal vector (with a few afghan exceptions) of the spread of iranian language and high culture outside of iran/turan proper (west into anatolia and east india), BUT, iranian high culture was already very influential among the ‘arabs’ well before the rise of turks. at least after 750 and the abbassids, when a stylized fact is that iranian culture and forms ‘captured’ the world of islam.

      (agree iranians should chill with the self-pride, but these are persians you are talking about)

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    2. The military prowess of Asia outside of Turkey, Israel, Pak, India, China, and South Korea is pretty lousy. Iran makes a lot of noise but would get rolled by any of the above countries, much less the US. But then its strength has always been its proxies.

      Side note, Iranians are the most insufferable people I’ve ever met when it comes ethnocentrism and national pride. By a lot.

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      1. Side note, Iranians are the most insufferable people I’ve ever met when it comes ethnocentrism and national pride. By a lot.

        anyone able to offer counter-examples? can’t think of one and i just tried. i mean, jews and greeks and chinese have them but it’s more moderate in relation to impact if that makes sense.

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        1. “Side note, Iranians are the most insufferable people I’ve ever met when it comes ethnocentrism and national pride. By a lot.”

          Jatt Sikhs in India would give them a run for their money anyday in being ethnocentric and bragging about themselves.

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          1. Jatt Sikhs can at least be cowed when faced with someone more “Jatt” than them (lighter-skinned, bigger, cooler, etc.).

            You could be wealthy, white-passing, huge, famous, etc. Iranians don’t give a shit, they”ll still consider you some poor pathetic peon condemned to live a miserable life not being Iranian. Its infuriating.

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        2. @Razib,
          I think this perception is due to their characteristics on orthogonal axes of arrogance and smarts.
          They have comparable smarts to Jews and Chinese and comparable arrogance to Middle Easterners. So, it is more possible as individuals to come across as primarily arrogant.
          We have Taleb to show how that pans out.

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        3. Koreans. The bug isn’t as common among them as Greeks or Chinese, but it can get pretty intense.

          Personally, I’ve seen a huge gender disparity in autoiranophilia. Iranian women in my experience just seem to have an intense but healthy respect for their culture, whereas men feel a need to throw in a reference to how great Iran is in every conversation. Of course men are more prone to nationalist chest thumping in every culture, but there seems to be a more substantive difference among Iranians. Has anyone else noticed this?

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      2. Have you come across Turks? Iranians are pretty moderate compared to Turks, and with Turks their nationalism often verges on being like Neo-Nazism too. The cult of personality surrounding Ataturk is also extremely weird. I don’t believe there’s a nation more proud and nationalistic than Turkey.
        Honestly, I’m half Iranian and yes many have a lot of pride, but some people overstate it. I notice less of the cultural arrogance now than in the past though.

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    3. “Not only that chauvinism but also their inability to estimate their strengths in today’s world may break them for good. Am not sure if iranians can beat even Pakistan or india in a conventional war.”

      LOL. very accurate. their recent mini war with america was farcical to the extreme. firing missiles at american bases, but making sure that advance notice is given via iraqi messengers. making sure no american gets hurt (or else there will be hell to pay). and all the while acting so jumpy that only thing they shoot down is a passenger jet.

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  10. Mohan wrote:

    “This is because Central Asia was Persian in culture when the turks invaded those lands and then adopted local customs. ”

    The history Iran over the last 1200 years is the same old pathetic sob story repeated over and over gain. They came, they wiped us out, but we are great because they adopted our ways of life. Whatever THAT means.

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  11. The history Iran over the last 1200 years is the same old pathetic sob story repeated over and over gain. They came, they wiped us out, but we are great because they adopted our ways of life. Whatever THAT means.

    this is not true in detail. there was literally about a 100 year ‘intermezzo’ when iranians-ruled-iranians. (samanids, buyids, etc) the rest of it was arab and turrk and mongol.

    the pahlavi dynasty was the first iranian dynasty to rule iran in 1,000 years.

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  12. “Within Anatolia and parts of Rumelia a process of assimilation of Greeks, Macedonians, and Armenians”

    Macedonian was not a separate ethnic identity at that time. Neither was it in Antiquity except in the eyes of certain Athenian bellicose rhetoricians like Demosthenes. Macedonians were simply a northern Greek tribe that had not taken on certain political features like the city-state. By the time, of the Ottoman encroachment on Anatolia, there was just Greek-speaking Romaioi in the area (the people who later became simply Greeks in the modern sense).

    The is a poorly written post.

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  13. ” a process of assimilation of Greeks, Macedonians, and Armenians, to a “Turkish” identity occurred organically through conversion to Islam.”

    Are there genomic studies of Turkey? Do they reflect this history?

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    1. Various genetic studies of Turks have shown between 10-15% turkic ancestry depending on which study. I believe some done by Turkish researchers have shown as high as 20%, but overall the majority of the ancestry appears to be a combination of Greek and Balkan.

      The Turkic ancestry is obvious in certain individuals (for example soccer player Mesut Ozil). The asiatic facial structure is very clear in some individuals but most of the population of modern day Turkey wouldn’t show it.

      You can clearly see the turkic ancestry in Mughal-associated individuals such a Babur in contemporary paintings and portraits.
      Taimur (Tamerlane) is another individual where the Turkic ancestry is clearly visible – the Russians exhumed him and did a facial reconstruction a few decades ago.

      In Iran and India/Pakistan its even less obvious than Turkey as the intermixture was far less. As an example the Shah Jahan (the 5th Mughal emperor) was 3/4ths rajput.

      So if the 5th Mughal emperor was 3/4th rajput, its likely the vast majority of muslims in South Asia are likely 0% or very untraceable amounts of turkic ancestry. They are most likely converts – something both Indian muslims and especially Pakistanis are loathe to admit.

      But hey I’m not judging – we all carry our crosses. Jai Shree Ameen.

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      1. the main issue with ‘turkic ancestry’ is some ppl claim that it is underrepresented due to lots of iranic admixture in the groups moving into anatolia. but yes, in general you are correct.

        the early timurids were VERY turkic (east asian) since they were from central asia proper.

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        1. It’s always been fascinating to me how race in islam doesn’t matter yet how it actually does. You see shades of it in this Turkic discussion where most practising muslim friends either claim that Turkic people aren’t originally East Asian or it doesn’t matter since everyone is Muslim. Obviously it does matter.

          I see similar shades in the Middle East where south asian muslims are treated as second class compared to Arabs. Not to mention how black Saudis are treated in their homeland or the Persian/Arab conflict.

          I’ve always wondered if African American’s converting to Islam were aware of how they would be treated in the Middle East. I wonder if they know of the not-oft mentioned legacy of Arab slave traders who were the initial conduit for slavery into Europe and then the new world.

          Again… not judging too much – the caste system’s brutalities are well documented.

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          1. Lawrence of Arabia wrote in his book “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” that Arabs were prejudiced against Indians (now “South Asians”) but not so much against Africans. (I don’t know how accurate this is though.)

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          2. Islam being past racism and all inclusive of races is a big myth. Islam’s oldest country Saudi Arabia is a homeland of tribalism, and 1400 years of Islam have not changed them to any kind of cosmopolitanism with universal values . Entire Arab countries are tribalistic. Ideas of superiority of man over woman, arab over nonArab, Muslims over nonMuslims, white over black , Humans over animals are well entrenched in theory, practice and laws. Little bit of open minded to history and news will dispel that myth. Hinduism openly acknowledges it’s entanglement with casteism , while Islam has been less open but no less vigorous in practicing all kinds discrimination and patriarchy.

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      2. “They are most likely converts – something both Indian muslims and especially Pakistanis are loathe to admit.”

        my observation is that foreign ancestry fetish was mostly a pre-independence thing in India. Post independence pakistanis, at least the urban and educated class, are more accepting of their native roots. some of them, like the punjabi muslim rajputs are very vocally proud of their indic roots.

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        1. “\Russians exhumed him \ Timur’s body was exhumed just a day before Nazi invasion of USSR, against all well-intentioned superstitions , not to disturb his grave.”

          may be this is reason chinggis khan’s descendants buried him in secret grave? 🙂

          if exhuming timur’s body can bring about a catastrophe like nazi invasion, imagine the horrors if the greatest khan ever to rule this world is awakened from his sleep!

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  14. while Islam has been less open but no less vigorous in practicing all kinds discrimination and patriarchy.

    i think it is hard to deny that islam and christianity have both been racist, but that racist ideology as such is hard to justify on the grounds of the religion itself (it’s possible).

    my personal experience is that islamists etc. are very narrow-minded and bigoted, but also quite non-racist (the most racist muslims are those who are ‘moderate muslims’, while the fundamentalists and secular/ex-muslims are the least racist).

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    1. interesting obs. May because Islamists look for recruits to their political/military projects , either foot soldiers or allies for their Khilafat . So, they can’t afford to be racist. or race blindless is path of leat resistance
      One feature of Islamic history which sets itself apart from others , use of slave armies to spread Islam and maintain Islamic empires and that is how Turks got converted . Islamic slave army system jelled with Mongol/ Turkish tribal ways of life centered around animal husbandry to produce Ottoman system of Govt, army and millets

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      1. Conventional wisdom has it that the bulk of the initial converts to Islam in South Asia were from the lower castes/classes (“Ajlaf” and “Arzal”). Over time entire villages and castes/guilds adopted Islam thereby broadening the base of Islam in South Asia. By and large caste based endogamy was prevalent. Is there genetic basis for this conventional wisdom?

        Second question: my understanding is that in today’s Pakistan the lowest classes (castes?) seem to have embraced Christianity as opposed to Islam. Any insight into why this is the case?

        Thanks.

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        1. Not all the conversions were due to “lower caste”factor. Many of the better off castes converted for career progression with Muslim kings. Some kind peaceful Dawa activity also worked. Of course, the ever present Jizya and all social and cultural persecution tipped in favour on conversion. Actually if some caste leaders could be converted, rest of the community would follow or would be easy for them

          Even Hindu caste system has provided caste mobility over a period of time.

          My impression is a strong presence of brahmins and brahminical institutions prevented large scale conversion

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  15. interesting obs. May because Islamists look for recruits to their political/military projects , either foot soldiers or allies for their Khilafat . So, they can’t afford to be racist. or race blindless is path of leat resistance

    no, i’m not talking about terrorists. i’m saying that the goat-bearded types are/were the most internationalist and ethnically conscious. others have noticed the same thing.

    fundamentalist islam is actually ANTI-TRADITIONALIST.

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    1. Razib, “Anti-traditionalist” in that they want to adopt a literal interpretation of texts in the social construct that applied when these texts became inscribed/part of the dogma?

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  16. Conventional wisdom has it that the bulk of the initial converts to Islam in South Asia were from the lower castes/classes (“Ajlaf” and “Arzal”). Over time entire villages and castes/guilds adopted Islam thereby broadening the base of Islam in South Asia. By and large caste based endogamy was prevalent. Is there genetic basis for this conventional wisdom?

    a bit. depends on the region. no caste endogamy in bengali muslims. but something going on in pakistan.


    Second question: my understanding is that in today’s Pakistan the lowest classes (castes?) seem to have embraced Christianity as opposed to Islam. Any insight into why this is the case?

    cuz pak muslims treat them like untouchables anyway. xtianity gives international allies. even on this weblog i’ve seen pakistani muslims talk about them in ways where there is clearly a negative to patronizing connotation to these people.

    p.s. a lot of ‘sayyids’ in south asian look to be upper caste converts

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    1. I think Sayyid wanted to go even a higher tier than Brahmin so just started saying we are from Iran and Bukhara and stuff.

      The other upper caste converts started claiming themselves as rajputs.

      At the end, since middle castes gujars, jats and ahirs still remained in the hierarchy ,lower castes couldnt move up, so they either converted to sikhi (Ravidasis) or Christianity.

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  17. But yes, Iranian Sunnis and Shias that moved to India were a large percentage of Iran’s elite. Iranicaonline.org has a good brief on that migration, saying there were very few peasants/nomads among them, and they were instead mostly people from upper echelons of society – so many gained good employment in lands ruled by the Mughals, Adil Shahis, Hyderabad, etc.

    shia ruled regions were magnets. lucknow, parts of south.

    khomenei’s family had a sojourn in india.

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  18. Finally, bit of a hindu nationalist rant at the end. pax islamica in india was the peace of the conqueror. yes, there was peace and prosperity in india during the mughal empire, but it was a conditional peace. it was a peace contingent upon the fact that hindus kept their station.

    it was the period when indians shrank both psychologically and intellectually. gone were the days when idols of vishnu and buddha used to be sculpted from balkh to borneo. gone were the days of magnificent sanskrit dramas and scintillating astronomical treatises. even crossing of seas became transgression worthy of excommunication from caste.

    (admittedly all this decline had started much earlier in the years of delhi sultanate itself, but for us hindu nationalists they were all the same any way).

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    1. i think in some ways to be frank this period inculcated into hindus a ‘slave mentality.’ i see it among some commenters here and among hindus i know IRL. yes, they may have resentment, anger, and support the hindu right. but the slave lacks self-confidence, and assumes, for example, that the child of a muslim-hindu marriage will OF COURSE be muslim. in islam, that IS how it is. but why does the slave still bow before sharia? because the scimitar still casts a shadow over the slave’s soul…

      (i do know people who have gone beyond the slave mentality; a hindutva friend married a pakistani woman and their kids are not being raised muslim [obv])

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  19. naipaul is weird cuz he’s west indian. the ‘slave’ mentality i’m talking about is particular to indians and their 1st-generation children. by slave, i mean that islamic domination set the terms of hindu reaction and adaptation. but 250 years after the collapse of muslim hegemony indian hindus still argue and conceive of the issues and answers in reflexive/reactive terms.

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  20. What you say (about slave mentality) was largely true, but , in my recent visits to India i now see that transform to something similar to regular right wing/conservative view now. Its still reflexive while making whataboutery comments on social media and TV studios, but on ground it has moved from slave-to-domination stage.

    It now acts more self assuredly (we are here and we are here to stay) and moved on from making rhetorical point on Islam , to real life issues like legislation,politics etc. In a ironic way its the people on the net (from either side of the divide) who seem stuck on Islam-is-evil vs Hindu-Nazis, while the situation on ground has moved forward.

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  21. @AnAn I’m really flattered, but I don’t think I know much, and really I wouldn’t even know what to contribute to this blog! I think I prefer reading than contributing lol.

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