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The Caliphates


The Umayyad caliphate established in 661 was to last forabout a century. During this time Damascus became thecapital of an Islamic world which stretched from thewestern borders of China to southern France. Not only didthe Islamic conquests continue during this period throughNorth Africa to Spain and France in the West and to Sind,Central Asia and Transoxiana in the East, but the basicsocial and legal institutions of the newly foundedIslamic world were established.


The Abbasids, who succeeded the Umayyads, shifted thecapital to Baghdad which soon developed into anincomparable center of learning and culture as well asthe administrative and political heart of a vast world.

They ruled for over 500 years but gradually their powerwaned and they remained only symbolic rulers bestowinglegitimacy upon various sultans and princes who wieldedactual military power. The Abbasid caliphate was finallyabolished when Hulagu, the Mongol ruler, captured Baghdadin 1258, destroying much of the city including itsincomparable libraries.

While the Abbasids ruled in Baghdad, a number of powerfuldynasties such as the Fatimids, Ayyubids and Mamluks heldpower in Egypt, Syria and Palestine. The most importantevent in this area as far as the relation between Islamand the Western world was concerned was the series ofCrusades declared by the Pope and espoused by variousEuropean kings. The purpose, although political, wasoutwardly to recapture the Holy Land and especiallyJerusalem for Christianity. Although there was at thebeginning some success and local European rule was set upin parts of Syria and Palestine, Muslims finallyprevailed and in 1187 Saladin, the great Muslim leader,recaptured Jerusalem and defeated the Crusaders.