Compare and Contrast: Muslim Empires

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
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Between 1450 and 1750, three great Muslim empires arose—the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals. The Ottomans arose after the Seljuk Turkic kingdom of Rum in Eastern Anatolia collapsed, which occurred because of a Mongol invasion in 1243. The area fell into a chaotic period after that because the Mongols did not directly rule it. In search of riches, Turkic peoples, including the Ottomans who dominated the rest, flooded into the area. By the 1350s, the Ottomans were advancing from their Asia Minor strongholds.

Under Mehmed I, they conquered a large part of the Balkans, and, in 1453, they captured Constantinople of the Byzantine Empire under Mehmed II, “The Conqueror,” thus establishing an empire from the Balkans that included most of the Arab world. Like the Ottomans, the Safavids arose from struggles of rival Turkish tribes. In the fourteenth century, there were decades of fierce struggles, until, finally, after three successive Safavid leaders died, a Sufi commander named Isma’il survived. He and his followers conquered the city of Tabriz in 1501, as well as most of Persia in the next decade.

They then drove the Ozbegs, neighboring nomadic Turks, back to Central Asia and advanced to Iraq. Lastly, the Mughal Dynasty was founded by Babur, who descended from Turkic warriors. He first led an invasion of India in 1526 and conquered the Indus and Ganges plains. After Babur died of an illness, his son, Humayan, succeeded him and was attacked from enemies of all sides because of Babur’s death. He was expelled from India in 1540, but eventually restored Mughal rule by 1556. Humayan’s son, Akbar, would later succeed him and become the greatest ruler in Mughal history.

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The Ottomans, Safavids and Mughals constructed significant empires, but each adopted different ways of treating their conquered people and developed diverse methods for managing social, political, and economic systems. In order to promote the expansion of their empire, the Ottomans adopted many practices to include non-Muslims in the military. At first, the Ottomans’ first concern was to collect tribute from their conquered people. This first happened in 1243 when the kingdom of Rum was conquered.

However, in the fifteenth century, the Ottoman Empire’s imperial armies became increasingly dominated by infantry divisions made up of troops called Janissaries. Most of these Janissaries had been forcibly recruited as adolescent boys in conquered areas, such as the Balkans, where most of the population was made up of Christians. Sometimes the boys’ parents willingly turned their sons over to the Ottoman recruiters because of the opportunities for advancement that came with service to the Ottoman sultans. And although they were legally slaves, they were well-educated and converted to Islam.

Some of them even went on to serve in the palace or bureaucracy, but most became Janissaries. These Janissaries, however, later gained political influence. Commerce within the empire was in the hands of Christian and Jewish merchants, who as dhimmis, or “people of the book,” were under the protection of the Ottoman rulers. The Safavids espoused the Shi’a variant of Islam unlike the Ottomans, who espoused the Sunni variant of Islam. These two variants despised each other, and their hatred showed during the battle of Chaldiran on August 1514 in northwest Persia.

However, the Safavids were easily killed because of the Ottomans’ advanced warfare technology. Under Abbas the Great, the Safavid Empire thrived with toleration for captured and conquered people. For example, captured Russian youths were educated and converted, and they formed the backbone of the Safavid’s military forces. They monopolized firearms that had become increasingly prominent in Safavid armies. Also, some Russians were granted provincial governorships and high offices at court. Although the Safavids tolerated the Russians, they were not as kind to the other inhabitants of present-day Iran.

For example, Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and followers of Sufi preachers, were all pressured into converting to Shi’ism. One of the greatest rulers in all of history was the son and successor of Humayan, Akbar the Great. The Mughals, under Akbar, developed the most enlightened social, political, and economic methods for treating their conquered people. He not only extended the Mughal Empire with conquests throughout north and central India, but also made the Mughal Dynasty sustainable because of his social and administrative policies.

He pursued a policy of reconciliation and cooperation with the Hindu princes and overall population of his realm. For example, he encouraged intermarriage between the Mughal aristocracy and families of the Hindu Rajput rulers. In addition, Akbar abolished jizya, which was a head tax on Hindus. He also allowed Hindus to be promoted to high ranks in the government. Further, Akbar ended the longstanding ban on the construction of new Hindu temples, and he ordered Muslims to respect cows because the Hindus viewed them as sacred. He even invented a new faith called

Din-i-Ilahi, which blended elements of the many religions with which he was familiar. He believed that this would unite his Hindu and Muslim subjects, but it failed. Similar to the Ottomans’ collection of tribute, Akbar did leave some areas of his empire alone so long as they swore allegiance to Mughal rulers and paid their taxes on time. However, these areas were only left alone because of a shortage of administrators. The Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Dynasties each treated their conquered people and non-Muslims differently through political, economic and social procedures.

Akbar the Great and the Mughals had the most enlightened approach on how to treat these people, such as encouraging intermarriage, abolishing the jizya, and ending the ban on the building of new Hindu temples. This approach ultimately led to greater success for the empire as a whole. In contrast, the practices utilized by the Ottomans and Safavids resulted in more discontent for the conquered people and non-Muslims. Overall, these three empires over a three hundred year p conquered thousands of people and had to develop administrative practices and policies. These methods greatly impacted their success.

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Compare and Contrast: Muslim Empires. (2017, Jul 07). Retrieved from

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