WI: Arab "Genghis Khan" in the 7th century

What if instead of Muhammad uniting the Arab tribes under the banner of Islam in the 7th century (let's say Muhammad dies a sickly infant), a Genghis Khan/Temujin-esque figure had united the Arab tribes under his banner and launched a campaign of expansion against the weakened Byzantine and Sassanian Empires? Would they be more successful or less successful than the Islamic Caliphate in expanding against Rhomania and Eranshahr? What would the impact of the Arab invasions of Byzantium and the Sassanians being more like the Mongol expansions be on the history of the world?
 
Technologically and materially, the Arabs proved they could take on the powers of the day and keep expanding but I don't know if they'd he as successful without a religious basis.

I don't know enough about the early expansion of Islam to say for sure but I do know that an advantage the Islamic Caliphate had was the unifying nature of the religion and the ability for the identity to be adopted by the vanquished and thus be incorporated into the Caliphate. The rationale going something like: These muslims keep winning -> their god must be a mighty god -> I will become a muslim and add my strength to theirs -> with my added strength the muslims will keep winning, etc. That is Islam providing a self-reinforcing cohesion to the expansion of the Caliphate and downplayed the potential for conquered people to revolt.

Now it is possible to generate a similar or a substitute focus for a Ghengis Khan-esque Arab Empire but I doubt if it would be as effective as the religious identity of Islam.
 
Now it is possible to generate a similar or a substitute focus for a Ghengis Khan-esque Arab Empire but I doubt if it would be as effective as the religious identity of Islam.
Well, this hypothetical Arab "Genghis Khan" could adopt a schismatic/heretical form of Christianity (like Nestorianism or Miaphysitism) or something along those lines.
 
Technologically and materially, the Arabs proved they could take on the powers of the day and keep expanding but I don't know if they'd he as successful without a religious basis.

I don't know enough about the early expansion of Islam to say for sure but I do know that an advantage the Islamic Caliphate had was the unifying nature of the religion and the ability for the identity to be adopted by the vanquished and thus be incorporated into the Caliphate. The rationale going something like: These muslims keep winning -> their god must be a mighty god -> I will become a muslim and add my strength to theirs -> with my added strength the muslims will keep winning, etc. That is Islam providing a self-reinforcing cohesion to the expansion of the Caliphate and downplayed the potential for conquered people to revolt.

Now it is possible to generate a similar or a substitute focus for a Ghengis Khan-esque Arab Empire but I doubt if it would be as effective as the religious identity of Islam.
That is not really correct. The Islamic converts were primarily other Arabs not the conquered peoples of Byzantium or Sassanid Dominions. Arabs where converted after the initial phase by way of the sword. However, I do not mean that in the way a westerner conceives, but in the manner that the action of the sword speaks to the Arabs of that era. Victory is the token by which the Muslim converted the Arabs. Arabs of Jahiliyyah were a complex people who by the times of Muhammad valued three things:

1. Battle/victory
2. Loot
3. Honor and unshakable security pacts; this refers to the concept in Arab society whereby a person could gain the protection or offer protection to another. This was the precursor to the Dhimmi concept. However, it is even deeper than that, in how it is a society controlled by the unbreakable contract of agreed upon terms.

The early Muslim integrated all three of these and thus attracted the Arabs to their banner. This in my opinion, is all that is needed. However, it is hard to offer victory in battle, especially in an early stage.
 
So, what would happen to the Arab Empire after the Genghis Khan-esque figure which founds it dies?
Well, unlike the Mongols, it is possible for the Arabs to overtake much of the countryside with their own peoples. As well, the similar languages allows for much more integration than any Mongol state outside Central Asia.
 
That is not really correct. The Islamic converts were primarily other Arabs not the conquered peoples of Byzantium or Sassanid Dominions. Arabs where converted after the initial phase by way of the sword. However, I do not mean that in the way a westerner conceives, but in the manner that the action of the sword speaks to the Arabs of that era. Victory is the token by which the Muslim converted the Arabs. Arabs of Jahiliyyah were a complex people who by the times of Muhammad valued three things:

1. Battle/victory
2. Loot
3. Honor and unshakable security pacts; this refers to the concept in Arab society whereby a person could gain the protection or offer protection to another. This was the precursor to the Dhimmi concept. However, it is even deeper than that, in how it is a society controlled by the unbreakable contract of agreed upon terms.

The early Muslim integrated all three of these and thus attracted the Arabs to their banner. This in my opinion, is all that is needed. However, it is hard to offer victory in battle, especially in an early stage.
Fascinating. Very similar to the Viking ethos. Maybe there are parallels in other warrior cultures.

So if Ragnar Loðbrok or Temujin were promoting a new religion while conquering new lands and rising to the pinnacle of his society, you might have seen a theologically different world.
 
You could argue that Umar was already about as close as you can get. A lot less brutal, but this was partly because brutality wasn't needed. A lot of places were willing to submit after early Arab victories in the field (though they'd often rebel later).
The big difference between the Arab and Mongol conquests in the divergent fate of the respective cultural legacies. The Arabs were ultimately able to assimilate many conquered peoples and infuse crucial aspects of their culture onto them (while absorbing a lot of theirs). The Mongols largely did not; they either assimilated into the conquered, or were ultimately expelled (sometimes a bit of both). This is partly because they had almost no integrative ideology except the conquest itself. While conquest was clearly a critical factor of the success of early Islam, there was (and there is) much more to Islam than that. This also helps explaining the much lesser degree of brutality. The Arabs were fine with replacing older Empires, of whom they came to see themselves the rightful heirs by early Umayyad times, taxing the subject peoples as the Sassanians and Romans had, and enjoying the booty and the trading opportunities of the Empire. But they had a message that allowed the conquered to hope for integration into the elite while guaranteeing imperial unity. The Mongols wanted power for power's sake, more or less. They needed the conquered peoples to run the Empire but could offer them no integrative project beyond "submit or die".
So they had to showcase their terror tactics (Assyrians and sometimes Romans did that as well) while the Arabs could often afford more leniency (but they used punitive terror tactics when needed too).

So actually I don't see in what way the Arabs would need a "Gengis". They had plenty as it was.
 
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You could argue that Umar was already about as close as you can get. A lot less brutal, but this was partly because brutality wasn't needed. A lot of places were willing to submit after early Arab victories in the field (though they'd often rebel later).
The big difference between the Arab and Mongol conquests in the divergent fate of the respective cultural legacies. The Arabs were ultimately able to assimilate many conquered peoples and infuse crucial aspects of their culture onto them (while absorbing a lot of theirs). The Mongols largely did not; they either assimilated into the conquered, or were ultimately expelled (sometimes a bit of both). This is partly because they had almost no integrative ideology except the conquest itself. While conquest was clearly a critical factor of the success of early Islam, there was (and there is) much more to Islam than that. This also helps explaining the much lesser degree of brutality. The Arabs were fine with replacing older Empires, of whom they came to see themselves the rightful heirs by early Umayyad times, taxing the subject peoples as the Sassanians and Romans had, and enjoying the booty and the trading opportunities of the Empire. But htey had a message that allowed the conquered to hope for integration into the elite while guaranteeing imperial unity. The Mongols wanted power for power's sake, more or less. They needed the conquered peoples to run the Empire but could offer them no integrative project beyond "submit or die".
So they had to showcase their terror tactics (Assyrians and sometimes Romans did that as well) while the Arabs could often afford more leniency (but they used punitive terror tactics when needed too).

So actually I don't see in what way the Arabs would need a "Gengis". They had plenty as it was.

This may have been the de facto result. However, to gather the Arabs to the call of war, it was the dream of loot, battle and general pacts of loyalty that brought the conquest. The reason this occurred, is the Arab elite sent these same warriors upon new enemies, thus removing the same strife other nations would have. I stay slightly away from the idea that the Umayyads replaced former empires until the Abbasid Period in which this transformation was complete.
 
So, what would the impact of a scenario where the Arab Empire was something akin to the Mongol Empire be on the world?
 
Depends. The idea of an Arab Empire without Islam, but still reaching a relatively similar geographic scope is interesting, primarily because it will likely collapse swiftly without a unifying religious impetus. Fragmentation on tribal lines will be a huge factor. Christianization, Hellenization and other assimilation is inevitable to a large degree, I think. The Arab culture will readily blend with its subjects. Assuming Egypt and Persia fall, you'll likely see the Byzantine Empire in similar straits. However with a less cohesive Arab state, a vacuum will exist for the peoples of the steppe to exploit the vacuum.
 
So, what would the impact of a scenario where the Arab Empire was something akin to the Mongol Empire be on the world?
Far smaller than IOTL. Arab Empire will be divided between *Temujin's* sons, whose descendants would sooner or later convert to Christianity or Zoroastrism and assimilate into local cultures, unlike OTL, where Muslim Arabs created new separate cultural zone.
 
Far smaller than IOTL. Arab Empire will be divided between *Temujin's* sons, whose descendants would sooner or later convert to Christianity or Zoroastrism and assimilate into local cultures, unlike OTL, where Muslim Arabs created new separate cultural zone.
Also if the dhimmi are not disarmed by "Temujin", then a series of native rebellions are likely during the "Arab Khanate"'s succession crisis.
 
I don't know enough about the early expansion of Islam to say for sure but I do know that an advantage the Islamic Caliphate had was the unifying nature of the religion and the ability for the identity to be adopted by the vanquished and thus be incorporated into the Caliphate. The rationale going something like: These muslims keep winning -> their god must be a mighty god -> I will become a muslim and add my strength to theirs -> with my added strength the muslims will keep winning, etc. That is Islam providing a self-reinforcing cohesion to the expansion of the Caliphate and downplayed the potential for conquered people to revolt.
I was under the impression that most early converts were non-Muslim Arabs, and it took a long time for Islam to become the majority religion (Egypt, IIRC, was majority-Coptic into the eleventh century). In the long run Islam helped the Arabs avoid simply being assimilated into their subjects (in the same way that, e.g., the Franks, Visigoths, etc., ended up becoming assimilated into post-Roman Western Europe), but in the short run its main benefit in terms of empire-building was the morale boost and sense of unity and purpose it gave to its followers.
 
This may have been the de facto result. However, to gather the Arabs to the call of war, it was the dream of loot, battle and general pacts of loyalty that brought the conquest. The reason this occurred, is the Arab elite sent these same warriors upon new enemies, thus removing the same strife other nations would have. I stay slightly away from the idea that the Umayyads replaced former empires until the Abbasid Period in which this transformation was complete.
Well, in hindsight, we may regard the Umayyad period as one of transition. But of course, they did not know that. Clearly, the Umayyad Empire was a conquest state, where loot and its management was an essential part of what kept the elites (sort of) together. It is worth noting that the early Umma experienced three civil wars, a the onset, midst and end of the Umayyad rule respectively, so, they had a fair amount of strife (again, not unlike the Mongols in this).
Also, it may be useful to separate the Sufyanid and Marwanid phases of the Umayyad empire: under the Marwanids, and especially after 'Abd al-Malik and al-Walid, the Umayyad state was a lot more structured and self-conscious, and it seems clear from Imperial inconography that a perception of inheritance of older empires existed (sure, we have more or less nothing about Sufyanid Imperial iconography and architecture, the big stuff having been built only since 'Abd al-Malik as far as we know).
I fully agree that loot, warrior ethics and loyalty were the basic elements of the conquest, underpinned by the new (and yet not fully codified) faith. It is also important to note that faith was likely, as you point out, not the key element in itself (not before 'Umar II reign at least) as we know that a significant portion of the conquering armies was composed of Arab Christians and even Persian mazdean forces, plus other significant contribution that were neither Arab or Muslim.
 
Also if the dhimmi are not disarmed by "Temujin", then a series of native rebellions are likely during the "Arab Khanate"'s succession crisis.
This happened IOTL, with modest or null success (except, to a point, in Armenia). The would-be dhimmis weren't alsway immediately disarmed except in former core Roman areas (Levant and Egypt) where they largely had not been armed at all to begin with (part of why they tended to submit swiftly). Persian powerful nobles made pacts with the Arabs whereby they kept their armed retinues, Arab Christians were recruited in the Caliphal forces tribe by tribe, and so would be some Berber groups, although the latter tended to convert.
 
Or if they play their cards right, we might see a Solar Empire of the Zunbils. Praise Zun!
Um, I fail to see how a regional, vaguely Afghanized interpretation of the god Surya will arise as a result of, well, anything. As far as I know, the Zunbils were a provincial dynasty that occurred in the wake of the post-Hephthalite Indo-Iranian synthesis. Their religion wouldn't have any mass appeal. I mean I suppose the dynasty itself could somehow rise, but they'd probably adopt a somewhat more orthodox form of Zoroastrianism or Buddhism or (I guess not in this timeline, but Islam) in the process.

One of the biggest things I think people tend to ignore is how rarely rebellions of rural peasants actually succeeded in the premodern era. Almost overwhelmingly, a successful or even long-lasting rebellion needs some sort of power structure to achieve anything. There's definitely a reason the majority of rebellions in Al-Andalus were Muslim, despite the fact that Visigothic Spain assuredly had a long martial tradition. Conquered people often find their elites destroyed or co-opted and in a premodern era that can be pretty fatal to any hopes of a successful rebellion. I'm obviously speaking in general terms, but this is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

Rebellions in the modern era and throughout history haven't been all that different. You need poor state control. You need good geography. You need your rebels to have a clear separate identity. You need some sort of institutions around which the rebels can organize and become more than a simple protest or riot. Without those factors, you're more likely to get ineffectual tax rebellions and bread riots than true revolutionary changes.
 
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