The Role of Rumi and other Sufi Mystics in Converting Byzantium to Islam

100+ Rumi Quotes on Love, Life, Nature ...

Episode 23: The Sultans of Rum

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

This lecture explores how Seljuk Turk victories on the Anatolian peninsula (which Harl refers to as Asia Minor) ultimately led to an independent Turkish Muslim civilization with Kanya as its capital

In the early 13th century, the Anatolian peninsula was ruled by numerous competing Turkish tribes. In 1237, Sultan Kaykhusraw II unified the entire peninsula under a single Seljuk regime. Unlike many Turkish rulers, he refused to submit to Mongol rule until the Mongols invaded Anatolia and crushed the Sejuk army. According to Harl, Genghis Khan allowed him to continue his rule as a Mongol vassal.

Although Anatolia had reverted to rival Turkish states by the early 14th century, Kanya would remain the religious and cultural enter of Turkish civilization. Having thrown off their nomad identity, Kanya sultans employed Persian administrators and used Persian as their official language. Their embrace of Islam linked them closely to the caravan trade, as more an more Muslims flocked to the Anatolian cities, bringing their skills as architects, engineers, mystics, scholars and poets. Muslim migration to Anatolia increase substantially as Mongol warriors pushed westward and drove the Turkish families out of Transoxiana* and Persia.

An independent Turkish architectural style developed during this period with the building of mosques, madrassas,** mausoleums and camel rest stops. The latter were unique complexes providing secure storage for caravans – as well as heavily taxing them. The revenue they produced enabled the Seljuk sultans to issue silver coins replacing Byzantine currency.

The most interesting part of this lecture concerns the wholesale conversion of Byzantine Christians to Islam, largely thanks to the charismatic influence of Sufi mystics who also migrated to Anatolia to escape the Mongols.

The family of the famous Persian poet and Islamic scholar Rumi fled Central Asia for Kanya some time between 1215 and 1220. In 1244, he became an ascetic. He and his followers (known as dervishes) incorporated poetry, dancing, whirling and miracles into their practice.

By 1350 AD, the vast majority of Anatolia had converted to Islam.

*Transoxiana is the Roman name for the central steppes region roughly corresponding to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and southern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Film can be viewed free on Kanopy with library card.

9th Century Islam: Cultural Synthesis and Gradual Islamification of the Steppes

Samanid Renaissance & Establishment of ...

Episode 21: Muslim Merchants and Mystics in Central Asia

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

After their failure to conquer China (see How 751 Muslim War with China Left Steppes Under Turkish Control), the Abbassid Caliphate ceased its military expansion efforts for 300 years. Instead its leaders focused mainly on cultural synthesis of the new territories they had conquered. They hired mainly Persian administrators, and their new capitol Baghdad (and Islamic cities modeled after Baghdad) modeled itself on Persian culture and civilization, speaking and writing in Aramaic,* Persian and Greek, rather than Arabic.

In the 9th century, Arab scholars began to study Christianity, Judaism, Zororastrianism, as well as Aristotelian and Hindu medical and mathematical texts. Following a 811-13 civil war (over succession), the Baghdad court adopted the Persian custom of keeping harems and eunuchs.

In the early 9th century, political power was decentralized through the appointment of emirs to rule provincial cities and regions. The Samanid emirs, who ruled a border area encompassing eastern Persia and Uzbekistan, became particularly prominent They poured the fortunes they earned from the slave** trade into massive monument building (mainly mosques, madrassa*** and mausoleums). In many cases the latter were erected on top of former Buddhist and Christian monasteries. Under this process, the steppes of Transoxiana gradually took on an Arab/Muslim appearance.

Under Samanid influence, large numbers of Silk Road merchants began converting to Islam for three main reasons.

  1. Arabic had become the new commercial language, as both Persian and Turkic speakers adopted Arabic script for written communication.
  2. As Muslims, merchants were protected as members of the Ummah (Muslim community), even beyond the frontiers of the Caliphate.
  3. The Sufi mystics who traveled the Silk Road were very influential with Turks owing to their similarity to traditional nomadic shamans.

The success of Islam in winning over Turkic nomads would inspire Catherine the Great to establish Islam as an official Russian religion – in the hope of winning the allegiance of steppes nomads living within Russian borders.

*A Semitic language, Aramaic originated in ancient Mesopotamia and for 3,000 years was the language of public life and administration of ancient kingdoms and empires. The Old and New Testament were initially written in Aramaic. Jesus spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic.

**Increasingly, Arab regiments were replaced with Turkish mercenaries or slaves. This dramatically increased the need for Turkish slave solders.

***Early Madrassa carried out charitable work in addition to educating male students about the Koran and Islam.

Film can be viewed free with library card on Kanopy.