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Muslim Conquests of Central Asia

The early Muslim Conquests (Arabic: الفتوحات الإسلامية‎, al-Futūḥāt al-Islāmiyya) also referred to as the Arab Conquests and early Islamic Conquests began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion

The Hanafi school of thought of Sunnism is the most popular in Central Asia with Shiism of Imami and Ismaili denominations predominating in the Pamir plateau and the western Tian Shan mountains (almost exclusively Ismailis), while boasting to a large minority population in the Zarafshan river valley, from Samarkand to Bukhara (almost exclusively Imamis)

Islam came to Central Asia in the early part of the 8th century as part of the Muslim conquest of the region. Many well-known Islamic scientists and philosophers came from Central Asia, and several major Muslim empires, including the Timurid Empire and the Mughal Empire, originated in Central Asia.  (See my posts Babur and Memoirs of Babur for the story of the founder of the Mughal Empire who was born in the Fergana Valley and ruled over BukaraSamarkind and Osh first.

The resulting empire stretched from the borders of China and the Indian subcontinent, across Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe (Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula to the Pyrenees.

Age of the Caliphs

Percentage Islamic Today

Tajikistan 98%
Uzbekistan  96.3%
Turkmenistan 93.1%
Kyrgyzstan 88.8%
Kazakhstan 70.2

Tajikistan is the most Islamic today.  Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan allow others religions and are more secular with a greater  Russian influence.

History of the Muslim Conquest

The Muslim conquests brought about the collapse of the Sassanid Empire and a great territorial loss for the Byzantine Empire. The reasons for the Muslim success are hard to reconstruct in hindsight, primarily because only fragmentary sources from the period have survived. Most historians agree that the Sassanid Persian and Byzantine Roman empires were militarily and economically exhausted from decades of fighting one another.

Ideological, religious coherence and mobilization was a primary reason why the Muslim armies in the space of a hundred years were able to establish the largest pre-modern empire until that time. The estimates for the size of the Islamic Caliphate suggest it was more than thirteen million square kilometers (five million square miles), bigger than the United States, Canada or China today and a little smaller than today’s Russia.

 (See my blog post) Transoxiana (a Greek word that was used to describe the region in Europe) is the region northeast of Iran beyond the Amu Darya (or as it was known in the est Oxus River )roughly corresponding with modern-day  Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and parts of Kazakhstan.

Initial incursions across the Oxus river were aimed at  Bukhara (673) and Samarqand (675) and their results were limited to promises of tribute payments.

In 674, a Muslim force led by Ubaidullah Ibn Zayyad attacked Bukhara, the capital of Soghdia, which ended with Sogdians (See my blog post) agreeing to recognize the Umayadd caliph Mu’awiaya as their overlords and to pay tribute.

Sogdiana (See my post)  or Sogdia was an ancient Iranian civilization that at different times included territory located in present-day Tajikistan and Uzbekistan such as:   Samarkand,   Bukhara,  KhujandPanjikent and Shahrisabz.  Sogdiana was also a province of the Achaemenid Empire, (550–330 BC), also called the First Persian Empire led by same Cyrus the Great and Darius who famously battled the Greeks

In general, the campaigns in Central Asia were “hard fought” with the Buddhist Turkic peoples fiercely resisting efforts to incorporate them into the caliphate with the support of China, which saw Central Asia as its own sphere of influence, all the more so because of the economic importance of the Silk road.

Further advances were hindered for a quarter century by political upheavals of the Umayyad Caliphate.

This was followed by a decade of rapid military progress under the leadership of the new governor of Khurasan, Qutayba ibn Muslim, which included conquest of Bukhara and Samarqand in 706–712.

The expansion lost its momentum when Qutayba was killed during an army mutiny and the Arabs were placed on the defensive by an alliance of Sogdian and  (See my blog post) forces with support from Tang China.

However, reinforcements from Syria helped turn the tide and most of the lost lands were reconquered by 741.

Muslim rule over Transoxania was consolidated a decade later when a Chinese-led army was defeated at the Battle of Talas in 751 (See my post on the Talas Region of Kyrgyzstan)

Learn More

The Lost Empire that Ruled the Silk Road by Annalee Newitz  April 16, 2014





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