Period Introduction Overview

Encounters with IslamEurope and the New WorldEast Asian Drama

Encounters with Islam

  1. During the seventh century, diverse Arab tribes united. Their combined cultural and political force extended beyond the Persian Empire to Spain, Central Asia, and Afghanistan, and then further still to West Africa and China.
  2. Arab traders established an extensive network of trading routes, facilitating the exchange of goods and culture and the movement of armies.
  3. Islam became the dominant religion of the ruling classes in various Arab empires. Because the Islamic religion was not imposed on indigenous cultures, however, local religious practices often existed alongside Islam.
  4. In addition to facilitating trade in material goods, Arab trading networks made the exchange of ideas and artistic styles equally possible. This made for the emergence of dynamic literary forms and styles throughout the Islamic world.

Islam and Pre-Islamic Culture in North Africa

  1. Between 640 and 700 C.E. economic revolution fueled by Arab conquest united disparate, and often failing, economies in North and West Africa.
  2. Arab trading networks extended from the Atlantic Ocean to East Asia and reached from the equator to as far north as northern Europe: this was, in other words, a vast commercial trading network (though not one that imposed a single unifying culture or religion on its various components).
  3. Muslim traders brought Islam to West Africa, and while Islam became a common aspect of the cultural landscape, it did not occlude earlier religious and cultural practices. This produced a vibrant multiculturalism whereby new ideas were often assimilated with old ones.
  4. Often, new literary traditions were adopted and adapted to fit local mythic and literary traditions.

The Ottoman Empire

  1. Though the Ottoman Empire started in one of many borderland principalities, within a century (during the 1300s and a few decades beyond) it expanded to Asia Minor and to southeastern Europe.
  2. In 1453 C.E. the Ottoman Empire conquered the city of Constantinople (in modern-day Turkey), solidifying it as the new imperial power that would replace the old Roman Empire in the east.
  3. As the Ottoman Empire solidified, aspects of its previously nomadic culture faded away. However, the idea and figure of "the nomad" remained a staple in literature.
  4. The cultural elite of the Ottoman Empire were typically Christians who were converted to Islam and socialized into Ottoman-Turkish cultural practices and beliefs.
  5. The Ottoman Empire was linguistically and religiously diverse. The ruling elite did not attempt to impose a single, unifying cultural or religious identity throughout the Empire. This apparent "tolerance" did not mean, however, that all people were treated equally.

Islam and Hinduism in South Asia

  1. Starting in the eighth century and continuing for the next 300 years, immigrants from across the Muslim world established settlements throughout western and northern India.
  2. In the early sixteenth century the Delhi Sultanate, which had ruled a Muslim empire in northern India for three centuries, was overthrown by Mughals, a dynasty that ruled most of South Asia from 1526 to 1857. This Mughal dynasty would become the most powerful political force in Asia and in combination with its Delhi Sultanate predecessor would provide a cultural tradition that is still evident in South Asia today.
  3. Prior to the arrival of Islam to the Indian subcontinent, the polytheistic practice of Hinduism was the most common religion. The belief systems of Islam (monotheistic and against idol-worship) often conflicted with Hinduism (polytheistic and centered on idol-worship).
  4. There were some points of connection between Islam and Hinduism, such as the practice of Islamic Sufism, which emphasized a mysticism that resonated with Hindu belief in spiritualism.
  5. Poets of this area and era often explored the cross-cultural tensions that resulted when belief systems confronted one another.